Fabregas relishes ultimate Barca challenge

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Cesc Fabregas' summer move to his boyhood club was not supposed to go this well.

Up and down the country whispering voices of dissent from fans and pundits alike doubted the 24-year-old's ability to fit into an all-conquering, world-class Barcelona team.

Where was the role for Fabregas in a midfield already occupied by Xavi and Iniesta, the miniature maestros pulling the strings at the heart of one of European football's most successful ever sides.

However, eight months into life at the Nou Camp and the former Arsenal captain has arguably become one of Barca's most consistent performers. Barcelona manager Guardiola has shuffled his deck and found a way to incorporate Fabregas, often playing him in a more advanced role. This has allowed Guardiola to play Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc together and Fabregas has credited the Barca boss with taking his game to a whole new level.

In an interview with Revista de La Liga, the Barca midfielder said: "I want to become a better player every day but thanks to him [Guardiola] I am learning a lot - things I never thought about in football, he is teaching them to me. I have a very good relationship - he's just very demanding with everyone and I like that very much."

The former Arsenal man is a fierce competitor and has always demanded the best from those around him so not many fans begrudged him a move to Barca after six frustrating and trophyless seasons with the Gunners.

However, it would be fair to say that, in a similar fashion to the recent vocal minority who questioned Wenger, a pocket of fans at the Emirates did begin to doubt the Spanish international's commitment to the cause.

A reckless backheel at the Nou Camp completed a miserable evening for Fabregas in a Champions League match last year and triggered considerable criticism for the first time in Fabregas' career. Outshone by Jack Wilshere for the vast majority of that tie, Fabregas was no longer the darling of the Arsenal fans and, along with Samir Nasri, left the Emirates last summer for a fresh start.

While Arsenal have struggled at times this season, not all has been plain sailing at Barca either, as they trail rivals Real Madrid by 10 points in La Liga. However, the reigning Spanish, European and World champions remain favourites to take home a third Champions League trophy in four seasons and will contest the Copa del Rey final in May against Athletic Bilbao.

Even winning one of these tournaments would considerably swell Fabregas' trophy cabinet that currently contains only a single FA Cup winners medal from his time at Arsenal, and the midfielder believes he's already improved hugely during his brief time in Spain, especially when it comes to tactical awareness.

Fabregas said: "At the beginning it was difficult because I was going forward and I was caught out of position many times and I knew I had to learn but now in the last three or four games I've felt so much better already.

"Maybe some people will not see it but before if I saw Dani Alves and Alexis [Sanchez] and Pedro playing on the same right side and they were going forward, I was going forward too. Now, the other day against Leverkusen, Dani was going forward a lot and I though 'wait a second, I have to stay and I have to cover a position'.

"There are so many things that I am learning from the manager's training and preparation and the way he talks. He just wants to be the best and he wants to take the best out of the players."

Fabregas' first season in Spain has been an unmitigated success on a personal level, with the midfielder chalking up 15 goals and 16 assists already, putting him on pace to match his best season at Arsenal in 2009-10 when he managed 19 goals and 19 assists.

He will attempt to add to these figures tonight when Barcelona face Bayer Leverkusen in the second leg of their last 16 Champions League tie. Already 3-1 up on aggregate from the first leg, barring a heroic comeback from the Germans similar to the one Fabregas' former teammates almost managed last night against Milan, the Spaniard remains on course to secure his first Champions League trophy.

Playing in a such a successful team alongside Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Pique would be intimidating for many in the game but so far any early season doubt regarding Fabregas' ability to fit-in has been sidelined. The Barca academy graduate who left for London aged 16 has enjoyed his return, especially being reunited with La Masia collegue and fellow graduate Lionel Messi.

Asked what it's like to play with the world's best player on a daily basis Fabregas said: "The best players don't normally talk too much but they play very well and Lionel is definitely one of them."

It seems Fabregas too has done his talking on the pitch, in the process silencing any doubters and proving his credentials as one of Europe's best midfielders in one of Europe's best ever midfields.

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European News
Premier League
Francesc Fabregas

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