Well done everyone, we’ve managed to make it through the barren footballing wasteland of the summer to arrive once again at the pinnacle of world football, the English football league. After successfully navigating months of listless Saturday afternoons, we can return to the familiar weekly routine, because no matter how grim your week is looking, football is coming to save you in a matter of days. Oh, apparently there was some sort of beach football tournament in Brazil, but I don’t think England were involved so we’ll gloss over it and skip to casting premature judgement on the Premier League’s debutants. Let’s get started.
Playing in the first early kick-off of the season, Herrera was probably the first of the shiny and expensive imports we got to take a good look at this weekend. The Manchester United midfielder arrived from Athletic Club Bilbao over the summer promising to be the answer to Old Trafford’s midfield woes – and he’s certainly got the record to back it up, with a few seasons marshalling the Bilbao defence under his belt. And of course, Herrera is remembered by the United faithful as the man who helped orchestrate their Europa League defeat last spring.
Unfortunately, the Spaniard’s trademark first touch seemed largely absent in his league debut in front of his new home fans, with loose control and wayward passing being the key points to take away from Herrera’s performance. We often hear about the adjustment period needed for continental imports to adapt to the English game, about the increased pace, physicality and all-round level of competition throughout the league, so perhaps it’s unfair to judge Herrera too harshly right away. He did show moments of the brilliant control and vision which marked him out amongst the legions of premium Spanish midfield talent, collecting difficult balls and executing nice passes, but none of them really contributing to United breakaways as you’d expect from a lynchpin-style midfielder.
Herrera is being heralded as the new Paul Scholes.
Throughout the game, positioning seemed to be an ever-present concern for Herrera, perhaps a result of Louis Van Gaal’s determination for United to operate with three at the back. Herrera is being heralded as the new Paul Scholes, and whilst there’s no doubt he can operate in the same controlling, marshalling role, Scholes rarely featured in front of an inexperienced three man defence. Regardless, Herrera seemed to wander from flank to flank, rarely tracking his man through the middle and spending much of the first half achieving very little in terms of end product. Indeed, his lack of defensive commitment contributed hugely to Swansea’s opening goal, as the absent Herrera allowed Ki to advance unmarked through the heart of the pitch. It’s exactly the sort of indecisive defensive work which can be explained away with inexperience, a new system to understand or the pressures of the famously tough Premier League, but it’s an area which Herrera needs to improve upon quickly if he’s to dominate from that holding position on these shores.
It almost seems out of place to be mentioning Arsenal’s former superstar as a new arrival in the Premier League, but after three years back at Barçelona (whose academy a young Cesc once graduated from, remember) it seems we are looking at a new Fàbregas in Chelsea blue.
José plans for Fàbregas to drop in behind a trio of attacking midfielders and dictate the tempo of the entire attack.
Always possessing a sublime touch, masterful control and the vision to unlock a tight defence gifted only to the very finest playmakers, Cesc must now adapt to his role in Mourinho’s midfield. It appears that José plans for him to drop in behind a trio of attacking midfielders and dictate the tempo of the entire attack, whilst also being instrumental in crafting opportunities for his teammates. It’s a role which suits the 27-year-old Fàbregas perfectly, allowing him more space and time on the ball than he might have been used to during his spell with Arsenal, and really opening up options for one of football’s top playmakers to break down and unlock even the tightest of defences.
Before Fàbregas’s arrival, Chelsea had struggled to get through those sides lining up behind the ball, their patient counter attacking game plan demanded that opponents attack in numbers, and without that opening Chelsea could be left impotent. Fàbregas changes that attacking dynamic, as we saw against Burnley this week.
In raw numbers, Cesc was attributed with an assist for each of Chelsea’s goals, but the sheer quality of vision was most evident in creating André Schürrle’s. The technique in receiving the ball and delivering the final pass were of course sublime, but the real highlight was something which is tougher to measure, the ability to recognise the run and produce the perfect pass to leave Schürrle a gilt-edged opportunity. Cesc showed that vision all over the pitch against Burnley, and repeatedly linked with Hazard, Schürrle, Matic & Diego Costa to open the Turf Moor defence and unleash lightning-quick attacks.
Ultimately, the difference between the very good and the very best in football isn’t something you can put your finger on. It’s rarely a statistic, it’s the things you can’t really measure – like Fàbregas’s uncanny vision for a pass – which mark some players out as simply being a cut above. Everything we saw of Fàbregas on Monday confirms that he’s in that class, and could be absolutely crucial to the new look Chelsea midfield in Chelsea’s title pursuit.