Pitchside

Immense Fabregas could prove £30m bargain for Chelsea

Pitchside

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Cesc Fabregas made his Premier League return for Chelsea against Burnley last night, and he picked up where he left off with Arsenal.

The Spain international was named man of the match on his official debut for the Blues, and he already appears to be the answer to one of their biggest problems from last season.

Chelsea had an outstanding record against their title rivals, winning all but one of their games against the rest of the top four, with the only slight misstep a 0-0 draw against Arsenal at the Emirates.

Despite those impressive displays, Jose Mourinho's side still only finished third, four points behind champions Manchester City.

Disappointing performances against sides in the bottom half of the table proved to be their undoing, and they lost to Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, and Sunderland in the final weeks of the campaign.

Chelsea lacked the ingenuity to break down stubborn, well-organised defences last season, and the club have brought in Fabregas from Barcelona to remedy that.

The former Arsenal captain is one of the best creative midfielders in the world, and he played an important role in all three of Chelsea's goals against Burnley. His most eye-catching contribution was the assist for the Blues' second goal, where he feinted to shoot from the edge of the box, but instead slipped in Andre Schuerrle with an exquisite pass - the World Cup winner made no mistake with the finish.

The first goal came about when Fabregas played a clever backheel to free Branislav Ivanovic on the right, and the defender's cross caused mayhem in the Burnley area, allowing Diego Costa to snare his first goal in England.

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Fabregas and Ivanovic linked up again for the third and final goal, with Ivanovic scoring from the 27-year-old's corner.

In addition to his assists, Mourinho will be also be encouraged by the way Fabregas already seems to have offered Chelsea a new dimension.

Last season they had athleticism, experience, and determination, but they lacked a player who could provide consistent service to their danger men.

Fabregas' arrival makes them a very well balanced side, and he can help them to play the attractive football that owner Roman Abramovich craves.

Fabregas' passing vs Burnley:

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He is an outstanding passer, equally comfortable keeping things simple or threading through-balls to his attackers, and he completed 87% of his passes at Turf Moor. From the start, he was looking to get on the ball and spread it around the pitch, playing in little triangles before releasing a free team-mate.

Crucially, he also makes Chelsea play faster. Where they could look ponderous in midfield last year, Fabregas quickly brings the likes of Eden Hazard into play, and in dangerous areas. Burnley couldn't deal with the speed at which Chelsea moved the ball around, and Hazard revelled in the new style.

Another player who could thrive as a result of the Spaniard's arrival is Schuerrle, as demonstrated by the second goal. He is constantly looking to make dangerous runs from wide into central areas and now, in Fabregas, the German has someone who can consistently feed him.

No one will be surprised by Fabregas' attacking quality, but there were question marks over whether he had the positional discipline to play as a central midfielder in Chelsea's side. He broke into the Arsenal team as Patrick Vieira's replacement when he was just 17, but he played as a number 10 during his final two years at the club as Arsene Wenger looked to make the most of his incisive passing.

The presence of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi meant Fabregas failed to establish himself in a single position at Barcelona, and he played as everything from a central midfielder to a wide forward during his three years at Camp Nou. He had been given a free role at the Emirates, but his unpredictable movement occasionally appeared to be an awkward fit in Barcelona's well-oiled machine, and Pep Guardiola once described him as bringing "anarchy" to Barcelona's play.

Fabregas' heat map vs Burnley:

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From last night's evidence, any concerns over his ability to revert to a central midfield role appear unfounded. Mourinho's treatment of Juan Mata last season made it clear that he will not put up with players who don't work for the team, and while Burnley didn't provide much threat going forward, Fabregas completed more defensive actions than any other Chelsea midfielder (5).

A midfield partnership between with Nemanja Matic already looks fearsome, and it will only improve as they play together more and develop a real understanding.

Matic brings physical presence and defensive nous, and his presence gives Fabregas license to join the attack. As the heat map above shows, he was all over the pitch. If Fabregas does get caught out of position, Chelsea are fortunate to have Oscar, who is selfless and diligent enough to fill in.

Chelsea came very close to the title last year, despite scoring 30 fewer goals than both of the sides that finished above them. Now they have added Fabregas, as well as a very good striker in Diego Costa, they have the attacking firepower to match their defensive stability.

The Blues paid around £30m to bring the midfielder to Stamford Bridge and, on last night's evidence, that could prove to be an absolute bargain.

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