Chelsea’s gaping Cesc Fabregas need emerges as Declan Rice transfer destiny awaits for Tuchel – Daniel Childs

It spoke volumes about the impact Cesc Fabregas had at Chelsea that on his final appearance at Stamford Bridge he broke into tears before he departed for Monaco.

Fabregas, once a villain at Arsenal, had become one of the club’s beloved protagonists.

As part of two title wins, an FA Cup and League Cup between 2014 and 2018, the Spanish maestro had dictated midfield, helped craft some wonderful goals and was added to a growing list of players who had found joy swapping north for west London.

When Fabregas left in 2019 he had mostly been sidelined by Maurizio Sarri, favouring the recently signed Jorginho at the base of midfield.

Since his exit, Chelsea have struggled to replace his influence and eye for a defence-splitting pass on such a consistent basis.

Part of Fabregas’ success at Chelsea was his outstanding connection to Diego Costa, creating 15 of Costa’s 58 goals across his three seasons in west London.

A trademark goal was Fabregas picking the ball up behind the halfway line and finding Costa with a pinpoint floated pass over an opposing defence.

This type of goal was repeated multiple times across three different seasons under three different coaches. The sort of natural chemistry Thomas Tuchel has found so hard to cultivate in an attack that looks so regularly out of sync with their striker.

Fabregas picks up the ball against Arsenal and floats a pass quickly to Diego Costa.
Fabregas picks up the ball against Arsenal and floats a pass quickly to Diego Costa.

Costa gets between Arsenal's back two, perfectly chesting the ball down before lobbing the ball over Wojciech Szczęsny
Costa gets between Arsenal’s back two, perfectly chesting the ball down before lobbing the ball over Wojciech Szczęsny

Nowadays this type of goal is rarely ever replicated. Sometimes due to the type of opponent not pressing high enough to open up space to play this ball.

But also due to the nature of Chelsea’s more controlling, possession heavy game since Sarri brought in Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, two midfielders who thrive on high ball retention.

It is something Romelu Lukaku greatly struggled with on Saturday. Consistently making runs and asking to be found only for a teammate to opt for a safer pass.

This rarely happened with Fabregas in the team. He would play a risky pass consistently, even if the margin for error was finer, the rewards were steep as his relationship with Costa proved in the 2014/15 season.

Cesc Fabregas was a brilliant creator for Chelsea in his four years at the club
Cesc Fabregas was a brilliant creator for Chelsea in his four years at the club

Declan Rice is an obvious target for the club this summer. A powerful and dynamic holding midfielder Chelsea have lacked since the days of Nemanja Matic, Fabregas’ midfield partner.

Rice has added an attacking side to his game this season for West Ham, being a driving force in their play whilst covering a lot of ground.

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But even with his wonderful traits that could prove transformative for Tuchel, a player capable of more artistry from a deeper area could be required.

In the Premier League, the likes of Youri Tielemans and Paul Pogba probably fill that Fabregas space of defence-splitting passes from a deeper area.

But the evolution of fullbacks since 2014 has seen the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold prove to be as effective from a wider position.

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In the current Chelsea squad, that creativity could stem from Reece James who has been injured since December.

Scoring four goals and making five in 16 Premier League appearances, James became a creative machine for Tuchel during the autumn months.

James, who assisted Lukaku’s first Chelsea goal against Arsenal, has only started four league games with the Belgian this season. In two of those games, the academy graduate had to be replaced due to injury in the opening 30 minutes.

With James on the brink of returning, that duo can hopefully finally get a long-awaited run in the team together.

Rice would be a wonderful signing but the wait for a player of Fabregas’ influence goes on.

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