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September 20, 2016 by Levi Dominic

​The midfielder’s performance against Leicester City in the EFL Cup was decisive and he surely must be handed a chance to start against Arsenal on Saturday.

Two stunning goals, an assist and a starring role in a 4-2 victory over the reigning Premier League champions. Now, surely, Antonio Conte must find a way of fitting Cesc Fabregas in his starting XI – especially with Arsenal waiting at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Fabregas has yet to start a Premier League match under the Italian manager but took full advantage of a rare opportunity against Leicester City to help secure a dramatic extra-time win.

The 29-year-old has been lucky to enjoy spells at three top clubs, where he has mostly played the protagonist, but has had to be patient during one of the most challenging periods of his career as he attempts to win favour with Conte.

Fabregas looked resurgent at the King Power Stadium, dominating possession in midfield and also impacting the game higher up the pitch. Along with his goals and his assist, Fabregas completed more key passes, delivered more crosses and took more shots than any other Chelsea player. 

The statistics are emphatic and he has hauled Chelsea out of the first small blip of the Conte era following a draw against Swansea City and defeat to Liverpool.

It took great character for Fabregas to come out of the darkness at Stamford Bridge, with his form being bad enough to see him dropped from the Spain squad for the recent internationals at the start of the month.

AC Milan made a late deadline day move for Fabregas, who has watched Oscar, Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante shoot up the pecking order above him since Conte has taken charge.

Fabregas, the argument goes, lacks the intensity of a typical Conte midfielder but today covered every blade of grass to state his case to start his first league game of the season in north London.

At Arsenal, he was often the first name on the team sheet and at Barcelona he had the luxury of playing a supporting role to the likes of Xavi and Lionel Messi, but it is at Chelsea he faces the challenge that will define his career.

Fabregas has had to adapt to Conte but, equally, he has shown enough for his manager to demonstrate some flexibility himself to find a way for accommodate his creative game in a hard-running team.

His interplay with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for the third goal was a perfect example of the potential of that trio and while Matic and Oscar started well in the opening three games, their technical level will always be below that of Fabregas. 

Fabregas, nevertheless, will need to add a different side to his game and showed here that he has the physicality to work up and down the pitch while influencing proceedings in the way he has traditionally become known for.

“In my opinion he’s improving a lot in many aspects, above all the defensive situations,” Conte has admitted. “I’m very clear with my players: when a player deserves to play, I put him in the team.”

On this evidence he has done enough improving to return to the first XI, and there will be restlessness developing in the stands as long as he does not.

If Fabregas remains on the bench against Arsenal, Conte’s honeymoon period will well and truly have come to an end. Chelsea were dominated in midfield by Liverpool – the new coach cannot risk the same happening again without his best playmaker on the pitch.


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