Strolling master Fabregas shows where his loyalties lie

Chelsea in better times. (Reuters)

Chelsea in better times. (Reuters)

José Mourinho had called this a must-not-lose match, a case if ever there was one of setting your sights usefully low. In the event, Chelsea managed to conjure a 2-1 victory against Dynamo Kyiv that seemed for a while as though it might have been snatched away in the now-standard second-half fade, but was ultimately yanked back their way by another brilliant free-kick from Willian 10 minutes from the end.

There was encouragement here for Chelsea: some fine interventions by Kurt Zouma in central defence and a sense of a team, for all its cobwebs and snagged parts, giving its all in the cause. Most intriguingly, given recent events, there was a starring role for 75 minutes for Cesc Fàbregas, who really has had quite a week, and who remains, albeit for fairly prosaic footballing reasons, a central figure in the struggles of this champion team.

Judging by the evidence here perhaps Fàbregas should arrange to be outed, incorrectly, as the Chelsea Rat every time a potentially vital Champions League game rumbles into view.
On Monday night Fàbregas had been fingered by the anonymous online entity the Secret Footballer as ringleader of the Stamford Bridge underworld and general muster point for dressing-room disaffection. Fàbregas’s denials were convincing, or at least supported by others who also claim to know the people who know.

Two days later at an occasionally edgy, ultimately boisterous Stamford Bridge Fàbregas produced arguably his best performance of the season to date in a match Chelsea came closest to taking charge of in those periods when their advanced No 4 began to take the ball and pick his passes with some of his old urgency.

If this was hardly vintage early-season Fàbregas, it was certainly a show of character for a player who had been subbed on or off in his last three Chelsea games, but who produced a welcome return to something vaguely resembling his old strolling, sniping best. It has been the dying away of Chelsea’s creative powers, embodied by Fàbregas, and more recently Eden Hazard, that has been most striking in their recent dip.

At times this season Fàbregas has sidled about the pitch with all the unbound attacking zeal of a three-wheeled shopping trolley. King of the assist, a player often defined by his hard stats, Fàbregas hasn’t scored or created a goal for Chelsea away from home since April and hasn’t had a shot on target in the Premier League since September. He has, in effect, been Chelsea’s own Secret Footballer.

The Royal Borough Rat, though? A deliberate underperformer? Fàbregas does have an alibi here, or at least some previous that suggest he’s not actually choosing to play badly. The Fab Fade, usually post-Christmas, is well documented.

How Chelsea’ season would benefit from more glimpses of rhythm and bite from their chief attacking quarterback, the rat that probably never was, but who seemed at times here to have rejoined a sinking ship. – © Guardian News & Media, 2015

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