Cesc Fabregas Is the Player to Benefit Most from Lionel Messi's Injury

Jason PettigroveContributor IOctober 7, 2013

There is no one better qualified to fill the hole left by an absent Lionel Messi than Cesc Fabregas.
There is no one better qualified to fill the hole left by an absent Lionel Messi than Cesc Fabregas.Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Although many star names litter Tata Martino's Barcelona squad, there is no doubting that Lionel Messi is the essence and fulcrum of his record-breaking side.

The world's best player is inevitably the first pick on the team sheet, and so much time and effort is invested in keeping him free of injury and worry that when the inevitable does happen, questions are asked of other squad members.

Back at the end of August, ESPNFC blogger Francesc Tomas noted the decreasing level of Messi's contributions when he said:

Lionel Messi has completed only one of the 25 games Barcelona have played the last five months.

In that time, the four-time Ballon d'Or winner has been subbed 10 times, entered as a sub on five occasions and was unavailable the other nine. 

Who can, and will, step up to the plate and ensure that any of Messi's absences aren't viewed as mini crises at Camp Nou?

Fabregas was utilised in the central role against Paris Saint-Germain in last season's Champions League. Photo Credit ESPNFC.com
Fabregas was utilised in the central role against Paris Saint-Germain in last season's Champions League. Photo Credit ESPNFC.com

One player who is arguably only just beginning to get the credit he deserves at Barca is Cesc Fabregas.

In Fabregas, Martino has the luxury of knowing he has a player who works well in a variety of positions and is perhaps the most natural fit for an absent Messi.

At last week's prematch press conference before their match with Celtic (h/t interaksyon.com), Fabregas himself spoke of what it means to Barcelona as a whole when their talisman is missing:

It is a test because we always want him in our team. Obviously Lionel is the best player in the world, I don’t even have to say that, and you obviously will miss a player of his talent and dedication.

We rely on him a lot. He is the best player, the one that scores more goals, the one that does the attacking tasks. He is always there for us, he gives assists, he is the best.

He can win a game at any moment so we are sad for that but you cannot feel sorry for yourselves because you are missing a great player.

In a nod to what he and his colleagues need to do to address the situation, he went on:

Without Messi we will have to take more responsibility. I think we all have to step up and make sure that we don’t feel his absence, and show we can play great football without him.

When he is not there we have to adapt the situation and players like Neymar, myself if I play, Alexis Sanchez, Cristian Tello, Pedro Rodriguez; we have to step up and do the job that a striker is made for which is scoring goals and giving assists.

Fabregas is certainly correct in his assertion that the entirety of the Barca attack should share the load, and in Messi's absence Martino should be looking for some sort of continuity, a player who brings a similar style and creativity to Messi's position.

Cesc Fabregas is that player. In either the false nine role or as the spearhead of a front three, Cesc underpins both with great skill, movement and natural ability.

Some could argue that Pedro Rodriguez would probably bring a more potent goalscoring threat to a central role, and don't forget Alexis Sanchez and Neymar have also played there with a good deal of success for Udinese and Santos, respectively.

However, where Barca would benefit from having Fabregas "up top" is his working knowledge of the slightly deeper lying creative midfield role that dovetails with the centre-forward. He excelled in that role whilst at Arsenal and has covered it more than adequately in Xavi Hernandez's absence whilst at Barca.

His insight in both areas of the pitch is second to none. Fabregas spoke to Arsenal.com back in 2009 when asked about his favoured position:

Now my position is higher up on the pitch, sometimes I don't touch the ball as often as I used to, so I have to be patient. But I know I'm in this part of the pitch where I can do dangerous things in terms of giving the final ball, and I have more time to go to dangerous positions to score a goal as well. 

I feel more freedom in that position.

Martino has already displayed a proactive way of working and problem-solving, and with Fabregas a ready-made replacement, it makes perfect sense to utilise him in Messi's absence rather than tinker with his other attacking options in a "suck it and see" scenario.

Vicente Del Bosque has certainly never had a problem with using Fabregas in the central role for Spain. Take a look at the setup for the Euro 2012 Final by way of example:

Photo credit: Eurosport.com
Photo credit: Eurosport.com

By virtue of more regular playing time and his continued high level of performance, the benefits for Fabregas and Barcelona are obvious.