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Cesc Fabregas – A world class player in decline?

Cesc Fabregas will be remembered as one of the best midfielders of the modern era when he eventually hangs his boots up. The 30-year-old has been playing regularly since the 2004-5 season when he broke through at Arsenal at the age of 17. In the time since he has racked up an impressive 338 Premier League appearances across two spells in the division for two of England’s biggest clubs. There is a case that the Spanish international is one of the all-time greats of the game in this country.

At the age of 30, he should still be at the peak of his powers, especially as his game doesn’t revolve around pace or power. However, he has become a less effective player over the past few months, at least to the naked eye. His goal contribution has fallen sharply, as he has only got one goal and four assists. Last season, he contributed five goals and 12 assists as Chelsea romped to the league title. The decline is made even more remarkable when you consider the minutes played. Fabregas has played more minutes this season (1778) than last (1328), which is remarkable.

Among the performances of Eden Hazard, Ngolo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta, Fabregas wasn’t given the credit that he deserved during Chelsea’s successful league campaign. The 30-year-old was involved in a goal every 78.1 minutes, despite being used predominantly as a substitute. He didn’t fit into Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 formation but managed to have a positive impact every time he was on the field.

This season has been tougher for Fabregas. He has been given more starts after the sale of Nemanja Matic, but he has been less effective as an attacking force. That can partly be attributed to the attacking problems of the team, especially in the final third. Alvaro Morata has not managed to replace the goals of Diego Costa, while the departure of the now Atletico Madrid striker was a huge blow for Fabregas as they had a telepathic relationship on the field.

A quick stats comparison between Fabregas’ last two seasons doesn’t suggest he is becoming less influential on the pitch. This season, he has averaged 3.65 chances created and 1.47 attempted shots per ninety minutes, which are still very good numbers for a central midfielder. Last season, he averaged 4.05 chances created and 1.72 attempted shots per ninety minutes. There has been a slight drop-off in attacking contribution, but not enough to suggest he is a player on the decline, especially when his increased playing time is factored in.

His decrease in goals and assists has likely been caused by the team’s own decline. They have gone from the being comfortably the best team in the country to 5th place. The finishing hasn’t been as good and it may be that the quality of chances being created by Fabregas isn’t as high. The sale of Costa has had a huge impact on his compatriot too.

Kevin de Bruyne has been lauded as the best midfielder in the division this season, but he has only averaged 3.31 chances created per ninety minutes. Yet, he has 14 assists to his name. Manchester City have been created far more clearer-cut chances, but Fabregas’ numbers remain comparable to that of the player likely to win PFA Player of the Year.

Chelsea are headed into another summer of rebuilding with a new manager likely to take over from Antonio Conte. There will be some wanting a total overhaul of the squad and Fabregas may be one of the players that some see as past their best. However, his high chance creation and experience mean that he still has a role to play at Stamford Bridge. He has been one of the best Premier League midfielders in history and he has a lot more to offer before his powers fade.

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