Chelsea, champions of England, currently sit in an unprecedented 16th in the Premier League table having only won twice in their opening eight games.
The Blues' poor start is their worst to a season since owner Roman Abramovich took over in 2003, drawing twice and losing four times since August.
Their dramatic fall from grace has every football fan asking the same question: How do you go from being the best team in the league - winning the title by eight clear points and losing a mere two games - to this dismal state?
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Poor defending, not usually associated with Chelsea - especially Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea - has played a big part.
The indecisiveness of whether or not John Terry is still able to play at the highest level combined with Kurt Zouma’s inexperience and Branislav Ivanovic’s horrendous start to the season are all key components to Chelsea’s poor form. The big problem that stands out in the midfield, yet undetected by Mourinho, however, is Cesc Fabregas.
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Tactically, Fabregas has been largely to blame to the Blues' uncharacteristically poor defending. We all know what the Spaniard offers - a man very comfortable in possession, who takes care of his passing and is very much focused on ball retention for his team.
This is reflected by his passing statistics this season. Whilst he has not been playing so well, his average pass accuracy remains a respectable 83%, just 2% lower than last season.
However, Fabregas cannot afford to contribute to the team only when they have the ball. Playing in the central midfield role that he does, alongside Nemanja Matic, he must play his part in the defensive duties and help protect the back four, especially against runners from the opposition midfield.
He failed to do so in Chelsea’s last game against Southampton, leading to Saints midfielder Steven Davis latching onto a long pass, chested down by Graziano Pelle, and volleying past Asmir Begovic to equalize, subsequently changing the game in favor of Southampton.
Last season, Fabregas was statistically better at defending compared to this campaign so far and it has reflected not only in his own performances, but also on the team as a whole.
Whilst not amazing, Fabregas’ defensive statistics show that he won more of his tackles and duels last season in comparison to this campaign. Granted, it is only October and a lot can change, but the following statistics, record after Chelsea's dismal 3-1 loss to Southampton at home, do mirror the midfielder’s drop in form.
Defensive Stats: 2014/15
Tackles won/lost: 73/17
Tackles won (%): 81.1%
Duals won/lost: 190/205
Duals won (%): 48.1%
Fouls conceded: 30
Defensive Stats: 2015/16
Tackles won/lost: 13/4
Tackles won (%): 76.5%
Duals won/lost: 38/50
Duals won (%): 43.2%
Fouls conceded: 11
So, the man who proved so pivotal in Chelsea’s title-winning team last season - the deep-lying playmaker; the passer; the quarter-back, if you like - simply isn’t putting in his defensive shift. So what are Mourinho’s options, aside from keeping him in the team?
The Portuguese could opt for a more defensive-minded central midfielder, with his main three options Ramires, Ruben Loftus-Cheek or John Obi Mikel. Ramires has played long spells in this position for the team, providing incredible work-rate and, at times, moments of class in front of goal. The Brazilian, however, can be rash in a tackle and a liability when in possession.
Loftus-Cheek seems to be Mourinho’s ideal man. Similar in stature to Matic, the youngster is neat with the ball at his feet and possesses the physical attributes to break-up play and dominate in midfield.
The England starlet looked to be a part of Mourinho’s plans this season when he started to appear more and more towards the end of last season, but a pre-season bust-up has left Loftus-Cheek with one substitute appearance so far.
Finally, there is Mikel - a long-serving player for Chelsea who offers physicality and strength, but in the modern game does not offer enough going forward to claim a first-team spot.
Loftus-Cheek or Ramires look to be Chelsea’s better options and bringing one of these midfielders into the central midfield role can grant Fabregas the freedom to push forward and play behind striker, whether it be Diego Costa, Loic Remy or Radamel Falcao.
Here, the ex-Barcelona man can execute the precise passing ability that has become the trademark of small, technical midfielders, like Fabregas himself, David Silva and Juan Mata.
Statistics provided by Opta, as per Goal.com.
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