A Capital One Cup victory aside, 2015 has not been great for Chelsea. They tumbled out of the Champions League at the first knockout stage, they were humiliated by Bradford City in the FA Cup and their league form has started to stutter.
It’s understandable, then, that there’s an increasingly audible dissatisfaction at Stamford Bridge.
In relevant terms, that seems ridiculous and rival supporters are probably right to sneer at that perceived entitlement. Chelsea is a perfect world in comparison to almost every club in the country, so their fans’ irritations are never likely to resonate with the masses.
Still, though, contextually there is some legitimacy to this: given the resources available and the strength of Jose Mourinho’s squad, this season has started to feel a little underwhelming and some of the performances in recent months have been less than spectacular.
The reaction to Cesc Fabregas is misplaced, though. The Spaniard has not maintained his early season form - unsurprisingly given how terrific it was - and his relationship with the Stamford Bridge crowd is unjustifiably becoming quite strained.
Firstly, if there is a villain in this piece, it’s not Fabregas. If you were to draw up a list of under-performing players, you would name Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, Oscar, and probably Willian before getting to the former Barcelona midfielder. In fact, of all the regular starters, only Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, and Branislav Ivanovic are currently matching their level of performance from the early months of the season.
Secondly - and more pertinently - if Fabregas’ form has dipped, it’s likely because of what’s happening ahead of him. Any playmaker is reliant on available options in the final-third and if opponents start doing a better job of closing off those passing channels, then a creative player will inevitably struggle.
On Sunday, for example, Southampton were tactically impeccable for the last hour and Chelsea were restricted to shuffling the ball into the channels and hoping that one of their more dynamic players was able to beat a covering defender in isolation and create some space. The stand-out performers in that game were all centre-based Southampton players, so that should tell you something about the obstacles that existed in that part of the pitch.
Fabregas’ passing hasn’t become less accurate and his level of effort isn’t dramatically lower than it was before the turn of the year, but rival managers are doing a far better job of restricting his influence.
That’s what happens: the more game-tape a player produces, the wiser opponents become and the more adept they are at creating nullifying structures.
To jeer Fabregas for this mini-malaise? It may be a loud minority rather than the entire Chelsea support, but it’s still ridiculous and it still amounts to a lack of appreciation for what the player’s role is and a failure to understand that his level of influence isn’t entirely within his control.
Jose Mourinho’s son shouldn’t have said what he did - and presumably he’ll have a fairly abrupt conversation with his father in the very near future as a result - but he’s not wrong: the criticism of Fabregas is a nonsense.
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