Cesc Fabregas dazzles but does he have a Chelsea future?

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LONDON — Cesc Fabregas was at his mercurial best as Chelsea took a giant step towards the Premier League title on Monday.

[ MORE: 5 takeaways ]

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.

Liga MX wrap: Pachuca earns first win, Leon stays unbeaten

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All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…

Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP

A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.

Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.

Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.

Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara

Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.

The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.

Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.

Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action

Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana

Sunday’s matches

UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.