Cesc Fabregas: How Vilanova Has Made Him the Top Mid. in La Liga This Season
"He will never start with Iniesta and Xavi still in Barcelona."
"He basically killed his career by moving to Spain."
"He left London to be a bench-warmer and won't even earn his pay."
These attacks were always short-sighted and too harsh, but under Pep Guardiola, Fabregas' inability to define his role within the team made it easier for people to say he just did not fit in.
Now, 15 months after his arrival, Cesc Fabregas has been the best midfielder in La Liga this season.
The "bench-warmer from London" has started all but one league game this season, leads La Liga in assists and has more goals than any true midfielder, besides Valladolid's Oscar.
This season, largely thanks to Tito Vilanova, Barcelona's No. 4 is the most in-form midfielder in La Liga and arguably in all of football.
Outside of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, no player in Spain has been notably better than Fabregas this term.
Apart from Celta Vigo's Alex Lopez, no player outside of Barcelona has a higher pass completion than the attacking midfielder and only Xavi and Sergio Busquets average more passes per game.
The 25-year-old also co-leads the league in accurate through balls per game, along with teammate Andres Iniesta.
Fabregas maturing and improving
In La Blaugrana's highly interchangeable tiki-taka-based formation, the midfielder has miles of space to roam and can switch into multiple attacking positions throughout a match.
Last year we saw Fabregas really struggle to understand this system and he lacked the discipline needed to play either role he was asked to play—most commonly either as a winger or a central midfielder.
Rather than keeping him restricted to the midfield role that the attack-minded star is really not fit to play—the frontward 'Xavi role', if you will—Tito Vilanova has basically given him the entire final third to roam.
Where does Cesc Fabregas rank among other players this season?
What Vilanova has done
In many ways, Cesc Fabregas perfectly exemplifies the changes Vilanova has made to the entire team.
The former assistant coach has built a more direct attacking team that overwhelms the opposition even further forward than they did under Pep Guardiola, while keeping the defense more disciplined and not as high up the pitch.
The 44-year-old has also often turned Barça's signature 4-3-3 formation into a sort of hybrid 4-2-3-1; Xavi drops a bit deeper, with Busquets shifting further out to allow Fabregas to move into the hole behind Messi.
This has seen the former Arsenal man play in his favored role and become the most dangerous No. 10s around. Messi may wear the famed jersey, but Fabregas' duties in the hole are very similar to what he did in the Premier League.
Fabregas has less defensive responsibilities and the general shift that Xavi and Busquets make to cover him closes the space in between. Alba also gives a hand out left.
One of the great things about football is the constant changes that occur for teams and players throughout the season.
Barely two months ago, it seemed Cesc Fabregas was unhappy with his part-time role at Barcelona and couldn't find a permanent place in the starting XI.
Now, he has as many league appearances as Lionel Messi and leads the league in assists.
Injuries have played a small part, but the bigger cause for this has been the tactical changes that Tito Vilanova brought to the team.
With play being more direct in attack and disciplined at the back, the former Arsenal superstar has taken on the role of central play-maker, without having the rigid positional restraints he had so often last season.
Right now, he is the best midfielder in Spain, perhaps the third-best player overall and arguably the best midfielder in Europe.
That may not last, but while this form holds up, Cesc Fabregas has his new coach to thank for finally finding him a place to excel at Barcelona.
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