London (AFP) – Cesc Fabregas believes he has shown he can be an integral part of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side having until recently been thought to be surplus to requirements.
The 29-year-old midfielder has taken a more prominent role since returning to the side at the start of this month after a two-month absence.
Having started two of the last three games, he is expected to retain his place for the Premier League table-toppers’ short trip to face London rivals Crystal Palace.
Fabregas pressed his case for a regular start with the only goal of the game at Sunderland this week that secured Chelsea’s 10th successive league victory and tightened their hold at the head of the Premier League table with a six point advantage over Liverpool.
Fabregas’s future at Stamford Bridge had been called into question but he believes he is demonstrating he can slot in effectively into Conte’s rejigged 3-4-3 formation that has been the key to the club’s upturn in fortunes.
“People forget it’s only the second time in my life, in my whole career, I’ve played this sytem,” Fabregas told chelseafc.com.
“My team-mates have played a lot more than me. Against Manchester City (in early December) it was a big test because it was the first game. I’m getting used to it, I feel very comfortable.
“I have a lot of players in front of me so I can pick passes between the lines, they run into space and I have protection behind me. I’m really enjoying it and I think it suits me a lot.”
– ‘We can compete’ –
Fabregas, who made his name with Chelsea’s London rivals Arsenal before a spell with Barcelona and then returned to England when the ‘Blues’ came calling in 2014, says it is unfair to say he doesn’t get back and defend.
“People say I cannot defend but I recovered the ball, went forward and scored (against Sunderland),” said Fabregas.
“I know what I can do but the problem is I haven’t had minutes, and if you don’t play you can’t show what you can do.
“In football nowadays people forget very quickly who you are, what you’ve done and what you can do. Hopefully now I can have a run of games to keep my fitness up and show what I can do.”
Fabregas says Chelsea have proven they have the mettle to win the title in eking out 1-0 wins over both West Brom and Sunderland in their last two games.
“We can compete,” said Fabregas.
“I’ve seen many times teams winning titles -– Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea -– where these 1-0 victories are so important. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
Palace go into the game still smarting from the narrow midweek 2-1 defeat to Manchester United.
Alan Pardew, the manager, was left frustrated by a number of controversial refereeing decisions he believes helped turn the match and must now lift his side who remain close to the relegation places.
“The luck that we’re getting right now, it just seems that every mistake we do or decision that goes against us is costing us,” said James McArthur, who scored Palace’s goal in the United defeat.
“We need to make sure we’re ready for Chelsea because we know the quality they have. We need to frustrate them and keep trying to score because that’s a real positive of our team this year.”
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