Handed his first start since the 10th of February by Niko Kovac, Cesc Fabregas repaid his manager’s faith emphatically by putting in an outstanding showing throughout AS Monaco’s derby win over OGC Nice in the Coupe de France.
Smartly deployed as one of Monaco’s dual number 10s alongside Kevin Volland within Monaco’s 3-2-4-1 offensive animation, Fabregas’ intelligent movement, creativity, awareness and technical qualities saw him shine.
To start with his movement, and the 33-year-old was forever scanning his surroundings in search of spaces to exploit. Timing his movements superbly to avoid markers and give his teammates options to progress upfield, this formed a formidable foundation for his exceptional outing.
An expert at finding space between the lines of Nice’s defence and midfield, this saw him connect play for Monaco by offering a fine link between midfield and attack. Aware of where best to position himself in relation to the ball, his opponents and his teammates, the Spaniard also found openings when dropping deep into true central midfield areas and when pushing wider into the half spaces.
To focus on the latter, and by receiving in the half spaces, this allowed him to inherit possession in less populated areas of the pitch, where he had extra time to assess his options and gain a fantastic view of the field.
Granted plenty of freedom from his nominal right sided attacking midfield station, Fabregas would occasionally venture over to Volland’s side to create an overload to help Monaco progress and unbalance Nice’s marking structure. Indeed, a testament to the worth of this tactic arrived ahead of Monaco’s opener, where he helped manufacture a 3v2 in the left half space before pinpointing Volland to score.
In addition to this, Fabregas would interestingly occupy wide areas following crisp rotations with his nearby wingback (usually Krepin Diatta), which gave Nice something different to manage.
An important byproduct of his movement arose from how it drew and pinned markers out of shape so teammates could subsequently exploit the space left by a defender leaving their post or being preoccupied. The example below, where he attracted the attention of Stevan Jovetic’s marker to allow him to run in behind freely, offered a fine example of this.
The likes of Jovetic and Volland would repay the favour too, for their decoy runs and positioning regularly generated openings for him to threaten in dangerous areas.
Fabregas notably embarked on some incisive runs in behind the defence and on the counter, with him cleverly angling these to be an option for through balls over the top or when venturing inside the box. Although not all of his runs were obliged, the impressive timing and directing of his runs was a joy to watch.
The former Barcelona, Arsenal and Chelsea star’s impact didn’t end there, for his masterful distribution was equally impressive. So adept at finding teammates and awake to their movement, his classy through balls were a real highlight. Weighting his passes and striking them with unnerving accuracy, Fabregas launched some beautiful deliveries to set his colleagues free in behind and down the channels.
Able to take out multiple defenders with just one pass, there were many instances when he did just that, with the below example a perfect case in point, where four opponents are removed from the equation with his penetrative pass.
Further upside could be found from his slick combination play, ability to switch the angle of attacks quickly, use both feet and recycle possession calmly if a viable forward option wasn’t available
Giving Les Rouge et Blanc plenty of control in midfield and choosing his moments when to unlock Nice’s backline, Fabregas’ presence was valuable in helping his team dictate proceedings.
It was also notable how he could be seen talking and gesturing to his colleagues, advising them where best to position themselves or what action to take on the ball, with his leadership and nous particularly vital in helping his younger comrades.
By the numbers, his three touches inside the area, three progressive runs, two shot assists, two shots, 42 overall completed passes and eight passes into the final third illustrated his threat.
Although his offensive work stole the show, he also deserved credit for his defensive efforts, where he pressed Morgan Schneiderlin efficiently and chimed in with some crucial interventions on his way to making four interceptions and recovering possession three times.
Adding a touch of class to Monaco’s work with the ball and showing how valuable his unique, multifaceted skill set is, Fabregas yet again proved what an asset he is to Kovac’s team.
Even though his season’s been interrupted by injury and he’s no longer a guaranteed starter, this man of the match performance vs. Nice aptly demonstrated why he still has so much to offer Monaco.
Ahead of the all important run home, having a player with his vast experience and technical wizardry could just be the difference maker Monaco need to propel themselves into the coveted Champions League qualification spots.