LONDON — Cesc Fabregas was at his mercurial best as Chelsea took a giant step towards the Premier League title on Monday.
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Fabregas, 30, notched two assists and twice came close to scoring as he quarterbacked Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge which means they’re now one win away from winning the PL trophy.
Starting in place of the injured N'Golo Kante, the Spaniard was making just his 11th start in the PL this season and it didn’t take him long to find his range as he showed off his vast array of passing and ran the show from a deep-lying role in midfield.
Named man of the match, Fabregas wowed the crowd throughout and although Boro (who were relegated back to the Championship with the defeat) gave him ample room to launch his laser passes high, wide and handsome, he still pulled it off with minimum fuss.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Fabregas reflected on a dominant display in this game, but also a difficult season for himself.
“It’s been a difficult year for me. I’m used to playing a lot but I feel I have matured a lot,” Fabregas said. “Many people told me I am not the type of player for Antonio Conte and I should leave but I like challenges. I hadn’t played every game but I think I have played in the last 20 games. When I have been on the pitch maybe my contribution is better than a full season.”
Fabregas has now assisted four times in his last three Premier League games as the former Arsenal and Barcelona playmaker has used his class and experience to help nudge Chelsea closer to the finish line.
Yes, he may not have played anywhere near as much as he would like this season, but he’s proving that he has a future at Chelsea under Antonio Conte.
With Kante picking up Player of the Year accolades and the elegant workhorse that is Nemanja Matic almost ever-present alongside him, it’s been tough for Conte to break up what has been working so well. The Italian coach prefers two powerful holding midfielders in front of his solid back three (or five when the wing backs are tucked in) and that isn’t Fabregas’ game.
That said, Conte told reporters after the game that Fabregas has worked hard to adapt his game and has improved as the season has gone on.
In many ways Fabregas embodies how each and every player has had to readjust their own play to Conte’s 3-4-3 formation and his demanding persona.
“Cesc is one of the best examples of our season because in this season Cesc, at the start, he didn’t play a lot. Then, through the hard work he improved a lot and then he is playing in every game. This development of Cesc is our development,” Conte said. “We started the season not in the right way with a lot of problems but only through the hard work to find the right solution together, we found the right way.
“Now, I think Cesc is showing to be a fantastic player and I’m pleased for him because I saw in this season that he put himself in this team in every moment. If he played or if he didn’t play. I think now he deserves this.”
Behind-the-scenes Fabregas has been tweaking his game and waiting for his moments to shine. He’s stepped up to help Chelsea to within one win of a second PL title in his three years at the club.
Despite rumors suggesting he could move to AC Milan or Inter in Serie A or even Manchester United in the Premier League this summer, Fabregas has found more chances to play in the past few months. With Chelsea having a heavier load next season due to UEFA Champions League qualification and aiming to go far in the domestic cups, he has a pivotal role to play in this Chelsea side next season and beyond. If he wants to do.
All of a sudden the future looks bright for Fabregas at Stamford Bridge. As long as he’s content with playing somewhere between a bit-part role and being the main man.
His quality is crystal clear but whether or not he’ll be a regular is a much murkier subject, one which Conte will have a tough time grappling this summer.