Manchester City v Barcelona: Cesc Fabregas thriving for Gerardo Martino's class of '87 following difficult spell after switch from Arsenal

He has played in 36 of Barcelona's 40 competitive matches this season - starting 31 of them

barcelona

"For every bad game I have, 10 good ones are wiped out," a forlorn Cesc Fabregas said last season as he struggled to play his way back into the hearts of Barcelona supporters.

There had been jeers for him against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final, with Spain hockey player Edi Tibau briefly making a name for himself by tweeting: "Cesc, seriously, it's minute 65 and you still haven't started running?" The homecoming had gone horribly wrong.

David Moyes sensed an opening and offered Fabregas the opportunity to call it quits and return to the Premier League to link up with Robin van Persie once more, but he stayed and on Tuesday makes a belated arrival in Manchester, still playing for Barcelona and with 13 goals and 16 assists so far this season.

He has played in 36 of Barcelona's 40 competitive matches, starting 31 of them. It's taken two years but he is close to becoming as important at the Nou Camp as he was at the Emirates.

It was never going to be easy — Fabregas will have understood that when he was jeered at the Nou Camp when he played for Arsenal in the Champions League. Opinion was always divided on the wisdom of paying €30m (around £27m) for a player who had walked away for free eight years before.

The then Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola had personally requested the signing and at first he changed the team's system to a 3-4-3 with Fabregas at the top of a midfield diamond dovetailing perfectly with Lionel Messi, whom he had played alongside in a Barcelona youth team 10 years earlier.

The goals and praise came early but that 3-4-3 system led to defensive glitches and, when 4-3-3 returned, Fabregas's role in the team was less clear. Two summers on and the arrival of Neymar seemed to cloud his future further.

There were doubts but they were not shared by the new coach. In an interview while still coach of Newell's Old Boys, Gerardo "Tata" Martino had mentioned the former Arsenal captain, saying: "Barcelona's style would be a lot harder to maintain without Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc." He was clearly a fan.

As much as Guardiola was an idol for Fabregas growing up, the relationship between the two as player and coach never developed as both would have hoped and was cut short when Pep quit the club. Martino has been the positive influence on Fabregas he has missed since parting company with Arsène Wenger.

"He [Martino] lets me play with the qualities that most stand out in my game and I feel very comfortable. On his third or fourth day in charge he called me over and told me, 'I want you to be the player you were at Arsenal'. And he said it very directly and in a way that made me think, 'Wow, at Arsenal I felt very good'.

"He said to me: 'I want you to play like that.' Things are not so clearly defined in terms of positions as they were under Pep and Tito. When we attack, Tata likes things to be a little more anarchic – just a little, without going too far."

The slightly more Premier League style of Barça's Argentine coach has not pleased the Barcelona purists but it has been perfect for Fabregas, who was always so at home in the blood and thunder of England's top division.

As Tuesday's team news will once again confirm, Fabregas's place is no longer up for debate. "If you play one game and then the next but then comes the big game away to Bayern Munich and we are losing 4-0 and you are not even warming up, then, whether you like it or not, it gets you down," he says.

He now says he is happier than ever at having come back and at having stayed put in the summer. Life is good off the pitch with old friends Pique and Messi still close. His partner, Daniella Semaan, is close friends with Messi's girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo, and both have young children.

"I never planned to go back. It was always clear in my mind that I wanted to succeed at Barcelona. And I was going to give everything I could to triumph here," he says, adding: "I spoke with [Josep] Bartomeu and he told me, 'You are not going anywhere; we have full confidence in you.'" Bartomeu is now Barcelona's president after Sandro Rosell resigned last month.

When Barcelona re-signed Fabregas two years ago the plan was to bring back together the class of 1987 – three exceptional talents born in that year, that came together as the spine of a youth side coached by Tito Vilanova in 2002, before Pique went to Manchester United and Fabregas to Arsenal.

Now with Pique looking back at his majestic best in defence and Messi imperious in attack, Fabregas finally looks ready to join the dots between them.

Read more: There is just 'one club in Manchester' - Pellegrini
Barcelona blueprint faces key test
Navas on beating Barcelona
Fabregas thriving under Martino
Barcelona are still incredible, despite what Mourinho says
Pique out to prove doubters wrong
Manchester City v Barcelona match preview
Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future