by JOSH My friend posed this question to me on Sunday morning after Cesc moved to the top of our goalscoring charts for this season. Was this just another knee jerk reaction after a sumptuous run of form, or is Fabregas turning the corner from potentially world class, to one of the best midfielders in the world? In my eyes it is too premature to acknowledge the Spaniard as the best, but he is not far from it. I am going to look at the things that I believe should be used when comparing those on the continent.
Where to start…?
I guess as we are looking at Cesc, I better start with his best attribute:
When one looks across Europe, a few players spring to mind when it comes to the ability to pass the ball: Xavi, Iniesta, and Xabi Alonso. Ironically they are all Spaniards and sadly for England they surpass the ability of the likes of Gerrard and Lampard. The accuracy and weight of the pass is crucial to the way Barcelona and Real Madrid play and that is why Xavi and Iniesta are able to showcase their talents. Xabi Alonso has returned to Spain and La Liga provides him with a platform to show what Liverpool are missing right now.
Alonso is vastly under rated in my opinion and his ability to remain calm in such a fast paced games was often unnoticed. Liverpool took his role for granted in the success of the Torres-Gerrard partnership. He was able to bring the ball under control and find the perfect pass despite the hectic movement and pressure around him. Instilling a Spanish style into the English game, I feel, is not recognised enough. It would be interesting to see Xavi and Iniesta play in the Premier League every week, just to see if they could cope with being closed down and tackled hard consistently. Alonso was able to do it and this is commendable.
So how does Fabregas rate compared to those mentioned? Well…he is now into his 6th season with the first team and he is again showing why he is so important to Arsenal. However, in only his second season with the first team Fabregas was running the show on a regular basis. His ability to control the game with ease was evident early on and he has been doing so ever since. He sees passes that many would not and very often he will complete that pass. I believe he is the best passer in the Premier League and as that is the best League in the World, not many would be ahead of him when it comes to passing.
I believe this to be one of Cesc’s weaknesses. If I look at the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Essien, I see guys that can run their socks off for 90 minutes but still give off the impression they could go for another half at least. On so many occasions we have seen Gerrard drag Liverpool through the mire simply because of his energy and determination. Lampard will always put in a shift going backwards, and Essien can run box to box all day long.
This season has highlighted that Fabregas needs more than just one central player alongside him. When he is asked to play in a central midfield pair, often Cesc’s attacking instincts are diminished because he is required to work a lot harder. He admits he does not have too much pace and this makes it hard for him to get up and down the pitch during a frantic Premier League game. This ability is rare and it those that have it are much appreciated. Vieira was the prime example for Arsenal fans to remember; breaking up an attack in one box and scoring in the other.
Last season I was worried about Cesc as captain. I was scared Wenger had made the decision that may have seemed obvious at the time. I thought that Cesc would not be one to scream at others when they needed it most, or motivate players when they were low in confidence. I never really saw him being vocal on the pitch in the way that Gerrard is. This season however, Cesc has shown me something new: a new calm determination that seems to resonate through the squad. The squad seems to have many leaders; none more so than Robin Van Persie and this seems to have led to a happy dressing room. However, I do believe that Fabregas has transformed his character slightly with the new responsibility and this is hugely positive.
In terms of leadership, there is no better than Gerrard. No player wants to win more for his club and his fans. So many of my memories of Gerrard include him rescuing Liverpool single handed, and providing the belief that his team mates can turn things around: Olympiakos, Istanbul, the FA Cup Final just a few.
The English Premier League boasts an array of goal scoring central midfield players, far more than any other country in the World. This season, Cesc has shown that he is just as capable as anyone in this League with 9 goals in all comps. He is calm in front of goal and is taking up fantastic positions. Early on in his career, the ability to score goals was something many people thought Cesc lacked. They thought he needed to improve this area of his game if he was to match the exploits of Lampard and Gerrard. It seems he has worked on this and it is starting to pay off.
Just as important for a central midfield player is the ability to track back and defend. Nowadays, the top sides all have players in the side whose job it is to protect the back four. We have Song, Chelsea have Essien, Man Utd have Fletcher, Liverpool have Mascherano, Man City have De Jong, Spurs have Palacios; the list could go on. However, it is still the responsibility of those around this player to help out. Fabregas is given a bit more freedom in the 4-3-3 system but I am still impressed by his desire to close down opponents and put in a tackle. Lampard does the same for Chelsea and it was highlighted on Sunday by Andy Gray that Valencia was asked to mark Ashley Cole out of the game. Defending as a team is so important now, especially in the Premier League.
In Europe it is often more of a team of two halves! Barcelona have Yaya Touré who is asked to defend but Xavi and Iniesta are given complete freedom. In their system, these two are able to flourish, but ask them to put in a shift in the Premier League, and you might see two very different players. Again, I believe any player who can excel in the Premier League has to be considered at least on a level playing field with those in Europe.
Overall…I guess I have not really come to a conclusion. If you asked me which central midfield player I would want in my team, from anyone in the World, I would probably pick Gerrard. I think his all round game is better than anyone. He may not have the vision and passing of the Spaniards, but he has all the attributes needed to be a top midfielder. In the hardest league in the world, he consistently shows all round ability that many lack.
That said, Fabregas is not far behind him; a combination of the two would be awesome (one can dream!) At 22 he still has a great career ahead of him and I don’t expect it to be too long before he is considered the best in Europe. In the Premier League he is consistently dominating games and as he develops further, he will gain the things he needs to be the best, of that I am sure.