When Cesc Fabregas made his long-awaited return to Barcelona, the sky was the limit on what he could achieve and contribute. However, since then Fabregas has yet to really find his place in the Catalan squad.
The former Arsenal captain has been extremely inconsistent due to limited playing time. But he has not gotten many minutes due to his lack of contribution. It is a vicious cycle. But it is becoming clear that his best role at this point is that of a rotational player.
In this article we will chart the season of Cesc Fabregas to this point while looking at the various ways he has been utilized. In the end we will focus on why a rotational midfield may be his best bet to find his best form.
Note all statistics are courtesy of WhoScored.com
When the current campaign began, there was a lot of pressure riding on the back of Cesc Fabregas. The Catalan star had been brought in to eventually replace Xavi, but it was becoming clear that would not happen.
But as the new season rolled on, Barcelona continued to utilize Xavi in a role very similar to Xavi.
Fabregas played centrally and was tasked with creating chances and running the offense. It was clear that he was not able to this and he really began to struggle.
Cesc did not perform as well in the Barcelona style, and his ability to create in the system was very disappointing. Cesc’s role as a creator was definitely in jeopardy, and his offensive role also took a hit.
Only giving two assists in the first three months of the season made it clear that he was no Xavi.
In fact, things got so difficult that some rumors even claimed that Cesc was unhappy at his boyhood club.
Fans and pundits a like then agree that Cesc Fabregas was indeed not the successor of the great Xavi. That title would fall to Thiago Alcantara and ideas of Cesc leaving Barcelona began to surface (via Daily Mail).
Once it was clear that the current utilization of Cesc was not working, Tito Vilanova made the much-needed change. He allowed Cesc to play a role more similar to his usage at Arsenal, and it immediately paid off.
The 25-year-old was no longer tasked with playing Xavi’s role; rather he played a mix of Xavi and Iniesta.
Fabregas was able to focus more on attack than creating and in turn it looked as though his position was at Barcelona was finally set. The Catalan was scoring goals and for a while even led La Liga in assists.
The reason this change worked was mainly due to Fabregas being more comfortable on the pitch.
The former Arsenal captain has even said that he is more comfortable outside of the box playing behind the strikers (via MARCA). When Cesc was able to play behind Messi and in front of the midfield, Barcelona became deadly.
During this time, Fabregas gave seven assists and scored five goals himself. It was clear this was the place for him.
Though this new role was paying dividends, it suffered greatly without Xavi on the pitch to create. And with Iniesta greatly favored over Cesc, a new problem arose—rotations.
Once rotations began to cause Cesc to suffer, Vilanova came up with a new idea that was to revolutionize Barcelona for the season. With wingers severely out of form, Iniesta was moved to the wing and Cesc Fabregas permanently took his spot in midfield.
At first, the new move looked like a stroke of genius.
Iniesta’s presence on the pitch caused defenses to give space by having to defend wide. This not only contributed to many goals for Messi. Cesc gleaned much from the change as playing behind the forwards with space afforded him comfort.
Fabregas became a regular starter for La Blaugrana, and it was much easier for him to keep form. He was clearly happier in the Blaugrana shirt.
But soon the club began to suffer.
Opponents quickly adapted to the false winger in Iniesta and began to turn their attentions to playing very tight in the middle of the pitch. Cesc was forced to play deeper to make space and his inconsistency began.
Iniesta did not pose much of a scoring threat from the wing. Cesc then had more scoring pressure placed on him which was never the intention.
At this point Fabregas began to worry fans. He would have some good games but could immediately disappoint the next day.
The experiment was over and Cesc was forced back to the bench to wait for chances as a rotational player.
Cesc Fabregas spent most of the season coming off of the bench and making spot starts. But when Messi went down against PSG, Vilanova decided to try to play Cesc the same way Vicente Del Bosque did with Spain.
The Catalan was pushed forward and tasked with playing the same false-nine role that Messi made so famous.
In last summer’s EURO the role worked to some degree for Cesc. He appeared comfortable up top and it made space for teammates. But there was one glaring problem in that Cesc could not focus on attacking and roaming at the same time.
Messi’s ability to track back and start runs from the midfield was just something Cesc could not replicate for Spain. As a forward he did succeed in attacking, but defenders quickly figured out how to nullify his contribution.
The same thing happened at Barcelona.
Fabregas looked sharp as a false-nine when he scored his first career hat-trick against Mallorca. But when he made the start in the second leg against PSG, more experienced defenders found him out.
Though Cesc can feature as a false-nine when Messi is out, that position should absolutely not be considered his best role. With Messi now back, Cesc will likely drop back to the bench yet again.
After any trials at different positions and forced to play in the same position as the best players in the world, what should happen with Cesc Fabregas?
There is no question what his best place is on the field.
The Catalan works best when playing just behind the forwards. In fact, when used by Barcelona in that role the entire team looks incredible.
But with Xavi and Iniesta in front of him, Cesc does not have the opportunity to really break into the starting lineup on a permanent basis.
At this point, there is really only one thing that can be done with Cesc—better rotation.
If the Catalan can be given enough time by filling in for Iniesta, then he will be able to keep form on a more regular basis. It doesn’t look as though Cesc has a chance of being a starter anytime soon, and he has to realize that.
If his goal is to be an established starter at Barcelona, Cesc might need to consider moving on. That just cannot happen at the moment, and he knows it.
The only thing Barcelona can do is give him chances where he is comfortable. At that point it will be up to Cesc to take his chances. If he finally accepts his role he could become very important as a substitute and role player.
Despite knowing what the best thing to do with Cesc is, it is hard to implement. The midfielder wants to start, and the club has to be careful how they manage him if he is to continue his career at home.
What do you think Barcelona should do with Cesc? Does the midfielder need to accept his role of being a role player and not a starter? Leave your thoughts and comments below.
Tre’ Atkinson. Follow me on Twitter for more discussions on Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona and La Liga.