Cesc Fabregas should ensure he gets booked against Southampton - Chelsea can't afford to have him miss Manchester United and Arsenal

Real Madrid pair Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos were deliberately sent off in the Champions League in 2010 to ensure they didn't miss the first leg of the knockout

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The Independent Online

Cesc Fabregas is just one yellow card away from receiving an automatic two-game ban for picking up his 10th booking of the season.

If he were to pick up that card against Southampton, he would miss the trip to Hull and Stoke's visit to Stamford Bridge. If he was to be booked against Hull, he would miss the match against Stoke and a trip to rivals Queens Park Rangers.

But if he was to be booked at Loftus Road on 11 April he would miss two of Chelsea's biggest matches that remain this season - at home to Manchester United and away to Arsenal.

Fabregas has arguably been Chelsea's player of the season since his £30million arrival from Barcelona in the summer, transforming the Blues from a cautious, defensive unit, into one capable of playing the best football in the division.

He leads the Premier League in assists, passes completed and chances created and has added a couple of crucial goals along the way.

Jose Mourinho's team may hold a five point advantage, with a game in hand and a superior goal difference, over title rivals Manchester City, but the Blues and their manage need Fabregas to play against Manchester United and Arsenal.

The solution is simple, if rather underhand. Take a booking against Southampton or Hull and ensure you don't those two massive matches. It might go against the way we like football to be played on these shores, but when titles are at stake it's the clever thing to do.

Mourinho likely won't object - in 2010, with Mourinho's Real Madrid already beating Ajax 4-0, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos were both booked for taking an obscenely long time over free-kicks.

Both were eventually sent off, earning them a suspension from the last group game (Real Madrid had already qualified) but a clean slate for the knockout stages.

The same pair were accused of doing the it again in 2013 in the Champions League quarter-final, with Real Madrid 3-0 up after the first-leg against Galatasaray. They were both booked, meaning they missed the second-leg but were both ready to play against Borussia Dortmund in the semi-final.

Uefa tried to act tough on the situation, inserting a clause into the rules that said that players would receive a "suspension for two competition matches or for a specified period for clearly receiving a yellow or red card on purpose". No such law exists in British football, while Uefa were unable to prove anything - both Alonso and Ramos played in the first-leg of the semi.

Xabi-Alonso.jpg
Xabi Alonso was sent off against Ajax and was accused of deliberately picking up a second booking for time-wasting

Don't be surprised if Fabregas is booked in the game against Southampton - that he was wrongly booked for diving at St Mary's might even prompt some to argue even more in favour of it.

As a Football Association spokesman told The Independent this morning: "How do you prove it was deliberate?"

Chelsea remaining PL fixtures

Southampton (h), Hull (a), Stoke (h), QPR (a), Manchester United (h), Arsenal (a), Leicester (h), Crystal Palace (h), Liverpool (h), West Brom (a), Sunderland (h)

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