Cesc Fabregas believes Chelsea’s “togetherness” as a squad has driven them to the brink of the double, and imbued them with the resilience to immediately bounce back from setbacks, just as they did in Saturday’s 4-2 FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham Hotspur.
Antonio Conte’s league leaders had faced a week of doubt and debate about their quality and resolve, after a surprisingly meek 2-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford last Sunday, leading to a lot of talk about a potentially superior Spurs beating them to also re-energise the title race. Just as in the 2-1 win over Manchester City following a surprise home defeat to Crystal Palace, though, Chelsea instantly responded to lift it with a big win and performance. Fabregas feels that is down to the unity of the squad.
“What I like is that we scored the first goal and everyone on the bench was together and celebrating. Sometimes when you are used to playing all the time - and it happened to me and it happened to most of us - you feel a bit down and stuff. But the togetherness we had on the bench, scoring the goals and then coming on and coming on with not 'oh, I was on the bench', coming on to make a difference, to show character, to show hunger to win. We're full of winners and I'm proud to be here.
“One of the very positive things about this season is that every time we had a defeat or a draw, we bounced back really quickly. We didn’t have the time to feel two defeats in a row or three, or have a bad moment. Every time we had a bad game, straight away we bounced back and we didn’t let it affect us. So I think that is a good sign.”
Fabregas does not necessarily think it will have a psychological effect on the title race. A rampant Spurs had cut Chelsea’s lead to four points, but have now been cut down at the knees themselves.
“To be honest, I don't think so. I don't believe in this. Even if you don't want to as a player, you know it's a different competition. We are so happy and we go home in a positive manner, better than we go home sad from having lost the tie. But we know this game was 90 minutes, 120 [minutes], penalties, to go to a final. And then the other way around, for the league it's three points. Either one, zero or three. Today, if it's 2-2 at the end, you say 'okay'. But if on Tuesday it's 2-2 it's not the same. We want 3-2, because three points are vital for us.
“That's why... as I said: it's better to be winners and to go tomorrow to training with a happy face and with the confidence high. Southampton didn't play for 10 days. It will be a very tough game. We have to forget when we leave the stadium today and focus about Tuesday, because it's one of the most important games of the season.”
Fabregas also feels that winning the double would be “special”, especially because he thinks it is more difficult to do than in Spain or Germany. Chelsea were the last team to win the English league-and-cup double, in 2010.
“If you can achieve that, it's something special and it's something very difficult to do. Nowadays, especially here in England. Because in Spain you can do it. In Germany you can do it. In Italy. But doing it here would be something special, something to be very proud of. But to be able to do that, first of all we have to work very hard. Secondly, sometimes you need a bit of luck. Definitely we need to be very, very consistent until the end of the season."