Cesc Fabregas has been linked with a Chelsea exit. Should Antonio Conte and the club move on from the ex-Arsenal man?
ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent Liam Twomey has summed up the the pros and cons regarding a Stamford Bridge departure for Fabregas while Blues bloggers Mark Worrall and Phil Lythell discuss what the fans are thinking.
How do Chelsea fans feel towards Fabregas?
Phil Lythell: It hasn't all been straightforward for the former Arsenal man. Many fans were initially sceptical of his acquisition while others (falsely) accused him of being one of the "rats" during Jose Mourinho's traumatic final weeks at Chelsea. A more widespread view would be of a player of rare ability on the ball but one that can often go missing without it. Many fans are split between the need for creativity vs. dynamism in the midfield but with the team currently firing on all cylinders, there has been little clamour for his recall.
Mark Worrall: Phil hits the nail squarely on the head with his last point. Fabregas didn't figure in Conte's starting XIs at the start of the season and with Chelsea getting off to a bright start, the midfielder wasn't the focal point of supporter discussion. The 2-1 home defeat to Liverpool in the Premier League brought with it a glut of concerns, of which the continued omission of Fabregas was one -- and several days later when the Spaniard netted twice in the 4-2 EFL Cup win at Leicester, the clamour started for his inclusion. Conte duly responded by handing Fabregas a start against Arsenal at the Emirates, but against his former club things didn't go quite to plan. At 3-0 down at half time, Fabregas was hauled off on 55 minutes -- and the rest is history.
Has he been a success at Stamford Bridge?
MW: In his first season at Chelsea playing for Mourinho, Fabregas and fellow new boy Diego Costa were a better pairing than fish and chips. Neither player covered themselves in glory in the disastrous campaign that followed but Costa has knuckled down under new manager Conte, despite all the rumours he was unhappy and wanted to move back to Spain. He is once again scoring goals for fun but Fabregas has failed to adapt his game and sadly, if indeed his days are numbered at Stamford Bridge, he is likely to be remembered as a one season wonder.
PL: Although the last 18 months might have not gone according to plan for Fabregas, it's tough to argue that a player who was a pivotal member of a team that cantered to the Premier League title has not been a success. The vision and execution that he brought to the side in 2014/15 saw Chelsea play a brand of expressive football that was unlike anything they had displayed in previous years. Once opponents figured out how to combat the system, however, Fabregas' influence subsequently waned and since then he has been unable to replicate those dazzling early months.
Is there a position for him in Conte's 4-3-3?
PL: Almost certainly not. The principal qualities Conte likes in his central midfielders are energy, mobility and tenacity. Unfortunately Fabregas' talents lie in other areas. He lacks both the speed and engine to get up and down the pitch effectively as well as having little natural tackling ability. He is not the sort of player to relentlessly pursue opponents in possession or be able to rectify the situation after losing the ball. While he has the ball-playing skills, he is not dynamic enough to play as one of the three more attacking players so his place on the sidelines is totally understandable.
MW: Unfortunately for Fabregas, the current situation sees Chelsea only involved in the Premier League -- and Conte has his 3-4-3 lined up for this competition. Without EFL Cup and Champions League group stage games to provide additional opportunities for first team football, his chances of inclusion look scarce even if he were to adapt his game to suit Conte's system.
You're Conte: Do you loan, sell or keep him in January?
PL: Keep him and reassess the situation in the summer.
There seems little sense in loaning out such an experienced player in the middle of the season, especially with no international tournament looming next summer. Given that Chelsea have used 4-4-2, 4-2-4, 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 already during Conte's reign, there is every chance the system will be tweaked once again if rivals find a way round the current approach. In the latter parts of the campaign, greater creative influence may well be required in central areas and Fabregas is still by far the most gifted at the club in that regard.
The current transfer rumour is that Chelsea will move for Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti in January. In Conte's mind, Verratti in has to equal Fabregas out -- maybe the French club would be open to a player exchange? Phil is right about Fabregas' creative ability, but it's hard to see the Spaniard ever getting into the side. Every manager has their type of player and Fabregas isn't a Conte fit. At 29, he is still a marketable asset and Chelsea should cash-in as soon as possible.