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.

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones