For Cesc Fabregas and for Chelsea, it was a return to the Champions League where the promise was tinged with frustration at Stamford Bridge last night. Chelsea, of course, have already won their European Cup. Jose Mourinho has won two, as he sometimes points out.
Fabregas, though, despite being one of the most decorated footballers of this or any generation, has not. He was on the losing side for Arsenal in Paris in 2006 at the age of just 19, but must have thought at that point he would have many more finals ahead of him.
When he moved to Barcelona in 2011, he joined the team which had won two of the last three Champions Leagues and looked set to win many more. And yet Fabregas, through no fault of his own, seemed to be getting in at the wrong time, as Barcelona’s intensity was fading. They lost the 2012 semi-final first leg here at Stamford Bridge and never came closer again.
Now united with Mourinho, Fabregas can justifiably be confident of a serious challenge for the trophy. As Mourinho explained on Tuesday, both of his previous triumphs – with Porto in 2004 and Internazionale in 2010 – came in his second season at a club. His best year at Real Madrid, 2011-12, when he beat Fabregas’ Barça to the title, was a second season as well.
If Mourinho is to make history this season, then he needs to reconfigure this Chelsea team around the obvious technical and tactical talents of Fabregas. “We want to give the next dimension to our game in midfield,” Mourinho said, when Fabregas arrived, describing him as a “number 7” – neither a six nor an eight.
Chelsea’s midfield certainly lacked dynamism last year, short of a man who could win the ball and take it forward, start a move and then finish. That, of course, was what Frank Lampard used to do in the good old days but he simply did not have the legs for it last year.
When Schalke had the ball near their own goal Fabregas’s job was to press forward, harrying them off the ball as Didier Drogba’s aggressive little second-in-command.
So, when Roman Neustadter sold Max Meyer short with a pass early in the first half, there was Fabregas, out scavenging for the ball some way ahead of his midfield team-mates. It was a 50-50 challenge with Meyer, Fabregas leapt into it and made more contract with Meyer’s shin than he did with the ball. But referee Ivan Bebek waived play on and that is precisely what Chelsea did.
Eden Hazard took up the ball and Fabregas made the right run, outside him, collecting the back-heel and firing past Ralf Fahrmann into the near top corner of the net.
That ability to arrive at the right time is one of Fabregas’s most important tasks. The next time he did it, eight minutes before the break, he had the chance to end the game. Fabregas ghosted towards the penalty spot and when he met the cut-back from the right, but skewed his shot over the bar.
Had Fabregas scored that it would have been a very different game but he did not and Schalke came back into it. Fabregas’ partner Nemanja Matic struggled with Julian Draxler’s graceful turns and drives through the middle.
When Schalke equalised, it started with Fabregas being tripped by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and ended with the Dutch striker finishing after Draxler had carried the ball forward 40 yards.
Chasing the game, Fabregas was pushed back in a 4-2-3-1 system, but he continued to orchestrate the game from deep, creating one good chance for Eden Hazard with a cross from deep and finding Bransival Ivanovic and Matic with corners at the death.
It was not enough, though, and for all Fabregas’s work, his team collected only a point.
- More about:
- Chelsea F.c.