The appointment of a new manager always creates some winners and losers. Maurizio Sarri’s arrival has spelt good news for David Luiz and Willian, both set for a promising future at Chelsea having both been bound for the exit after falling out with Antonio Conte. But while both Brazilians look suited to Sarri’s football philosophy, Cesc Fabregas’ future looks decidedly precarious.
It would be interesting to know Fabregas’ inner thoughts at Sarri’s appointment. The emphasis on technical, possession-based football will surely have excited him though the additional focus on energy and effort will have worried him. Technically excellent yet seemingly lacking the tenacity required by his new manager, the Spain international could find himself in limbo over the coming months.
Fabregas’ mood is unlikely to have been improved by the club’s transfer activity that was focussed on enhancing the midfield options at Sarri’s disposal. The acquisition of Jorginho from Napoli for an initial £50 million meant Fabregas’ hopes of assuming the central playmaking role in a midfield three had now evaporated. Mateo Kovacic’s loan switch from Real Madrid has seen Fabregas’ opportunities diminish further. The temporary deal with no option to buy suggests that Sarri sees the Croatian as an immediate fixture in the first team rather than one for the future and Kovacic’s blend of creativity and defensive diligence means he should slot comfortably into the system.
As well as the two fresh arrivals, there are now two other potential obstacles to the first team for Fabregas. Ross Barkley barely featured after joining for £15m in January, partly due to his own recovery from injury and also due to never gaining Conte’s trust. Now, with a full preseason under his belt, the former Everton man feels like a brand new signing and is another to possess the two essential traits required in a Sarri midfield, namely energy and technique.
In a similar vein, Ruben Loftus-Cheek is now starting afresh at Stamford Bridge following his successful loan spell at Crystal Palace. Having been on the club’s books since he was eight and impressing throughout the age groups, he has long been on the radar of Chelsea fans desperate to see the club’s youth policy bear fruit in the first team. Now 22 and returning to the club after a summer spent involved with England’s World Cup squad, Loftus-Cheek feels primed to make an impact at his boyhood club, reportedly rejecting a loan move to Bundesliga club Schalke.
While having young and enthusiastic midfield prospects at his command will be delighting Sarri, it will only serve to make Fabregas’ attempts to impress the Italian all the more difficult. His dwindling dynamism means that he is not ideally suited to the rotation in midfield where each of the three can fill in for another when required. But that doesn’t mean his cause is definitively lost.
At 31, he is not suddenly going to develop searing pace — especially judging by the way Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy strolled past him during the Community Shield — nor is he going to become a midfield enforcer overnight. He can, however, lean on the talents that have defined his glittering career: his vision, composure and peerless passing range.
Those assets are always valued and Sarri would be unwise to disregard Fabregas’ quality and vast experience simply because he doesn’t run around as much as others. Sure, he stuck out like a sore thumb in the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City though nobody in a Chelsea shirt covered themselves in glory that afternoon.
But there are few players in Europe that can both see and execute the type of pass that Fabregas can deliver and he is excellent at establishing successful on-pitch relationships with centre-forwards as seen with his almost telepathic connection with Diego Costa. With Alvaro Morata searching for goals and confidence, it might just be that his compatriot is the key to him finding the back of the net regularly once again.
That said, it is hard to see him regularly being part of the first team picture as long as the squad is fully fit and suspension-free. One of the hallmarks of Sarri’s tenure at Napoli was his tendency to settle on a preferred starting XI and stick with it continuously unless disrupted by injuries or disciplinary action. With Fabregas not quite fitting the profile of his typical midfielder, he will almost certainly be considered as a fall back option rather than as one of Sarri’s key lieutenants.
The former Barcelona man faced a very similar problem when Conte arrived in 2016 with the incoming boss dismissing him almost instantly. To Fabregas’ great credit he thrust himself back into his manager’s thoughts and into the first team through desire, application and no shortage of ability. Now two years older, it remains to be seen whether he can make history repeat itself or be forced to accept that his days on the frontline at Chelsea might just be coming to an end.