So it’s finally official. Cesc Fabregas is a Chelsea player. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a spot of shirt-burning, from Arsenal fans, much celebration from Chelsea fans (who, if truth be known, are mostly celebrating the aforementioned wailing and teeth-gnashing), and a curiously nasty little send-off from Barcelona, who waved goodbye to their erstwhile midfielder with a dig about how he seemed to fade over the second half of a season. Classy.
The confirmation of the deal has led to much informed comment about how Chelsea are now shoo-ins for the Premier League title. This seems to me to be taking an awful lot for granted, and also making the player himself out to be some sort of God-like genius (a mixture of Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar rolled into one) who can somehow transform a team who finished third into an unstoppable force.
Let’s look at this logically. Fabregas is an excellent footballer with wonderful vision and acute passing ability, and should in theory give the Chelsea midfield a dimension it painfully lacked last season. However, it is not a given that he will seamlessly slot into the team. There may well be adjustments to make that could throw the balance of the team for some time. He may need to re-acclimatise to the pace of English football – and he will certainly have to re-acquaint himself with the more physical side of it.
Furthermore, the lack of a central midfield controller was not Chelsea’s only flaw last season. Most noticeably we were toothless upfront until Samuel Eto’o recovered some of his form. Diego Costa – if he does actually eventually sign too – may help solve this. Or he may not. Buying a top striker is never, especially where Chelsea are involved, a guarantee of goals. Costa has had one really good season. He is not absolutely certain to have another.
Then there’s the ability of other teams to improve as well. Manchester City’s purchase of Fernando improves their midfield, and if they’ve any sense, they’ll step up their hunt for defenders to partner Vincent Kompany. Arsenal and Liverpool both have the money to improve their squads. And then there’s Manchester United.
Manchester United should be considered favourites for the title, despite their dreadful form last year. In fact, because of it. For three reasons.
First, their dire performance allowed them to sack David Moyes and appoint a top replacement in Louis Van Gaal. Van Gaal is a managerial genius -an eccentric one, it’s true, but a genius all the same.
Second, it allowed the club to see the fault-lines in the squad that Sir Alex Ferguson had been papering over for years. Expect them to buy a whole new back four and a midfield general.
Third, and most important, by failing to qualify for Europe, they have the same advantage Liverpool had last year. No midweek European trips. That single factor allowed Liverpool to perform way beyond their theoretical capability, and may well be the ultimate cause of Manchester United regaining their title.
Having said all that, of course, there is no doubt that the purchase of Fabregas – at a very competitive price too – strengthens Chelsea to a great degree. Now let’s get the Costa signing wrapped up, and Chelsea fans will be able to sit back and enjoy the World Cup.