It’s August 30, 2014 in the 69th minute of a match between Chelsea and Everton. Steven Naismith has halved the Blues’ lead with a goal and it is all Cesc Fabregas’ fault.

But why is it his fault? Why do we blame the man who has set up so many goals for this team for the one that nearly opens this match wide open?

It is because of his mentality and where he comes from.

Even though analysts talk so positively about Fabregas, because he splits defenses like this…

and this, 

though the defensive side of his game is where the Spaniard has been a liability for Jose Mourinho’s setup. That is because Fabregas comes from a culture where the below is not only acceptable, but also the standard.

The Barcelona tiki-taka style does not exist without pressing. Each player hunted as an individual and with a pack. For Fabregas, the norm was always the midfield players and the forwards going forward to chase the ball, with knowledge that a teammate was coming in for backup. However, that mentality and work rate cannot translate to a team where that is not normal.

Mourinho’s midfields are known for being very compact and condensed. As a result, they are often standing off of opponents, as we saw in that title-deciding match against Liverpool at the end of last season, when the Blues’ midfield asked Liverpool to attack the away side. The midfielders for Mourinho that day did not chase any of Liverpool’s attackers down, as they simply let the Reds make the mistakes and the tough decisions.

Fabregas is someone that does the opposite. He goes out into midfield and tries to run people down and win the ball off them to start the counter attack. However, when he does so, he can become a bit too ambitious and leave space behind him.

In Chelsea’s, system this does not work. While Nemanja Matic, his typical midfield partner is a workhorse, he does not have the recovery rate and speed to cover a large part of the pitch – and few players do.

For example, the goal against Everton occurs, because Fabregas jumps out. In this situation, he is playing with two other midfielders in Ramires and Matic. Fabregas is on the left of the screen in the yellow at the start of the clip.

In this situation, he has just finished coming out of midfield to try and win the ball off an Everton player, but he has failed. As a result, there is space behind him. The problem becomes that the space he has left behind is not covered by anyone, thus Aiden McGeady can run into it and serve as the catalyst for Naismith’s finish.

This event is not isolated, as the sequence had already happened. In the build up to the first Everton goal, Fabregas has come out to press, and Ramires has too, but the Brazilian doesn’t seem to be on the same page. Ramires is in no man’s land, because if you look over his left shoulder, there are two Everton players behind him. 

Matic is almost directly behind Ramires, so those two Everton players have acres of space to work with once on the ball, and Matic cannot cover both of them, especially when his duty is to serve as the protector of the back four. Even worse, once Kevin Mirallas beats Fabregas, the Belgian keeps going and is unmarked to finish off the cross.

Against Swansea, Chelsea wants to lock the game down, but trail the Welsh side early in the match because Fabregas chooses to go on the hunt again. This time, he comes out of his midfield pairing to try to win the ball off Ki Sung-yueng, but fails. Once the South Korean is past the Spaniard, Ki has space to exploit, and he spreads the ball wide to Neil Taylor, whose cross is turned in for an own goal.

This goal and sequence was pointed out by Gary Neville on Monday Night Football, and the analyst said that Mourinho would be unlikely to play Fabregas next to Matic in upcoming matches, but clearly the Portuguese felt he could discipline his midfielder, and he did.

Against Manchester City, Fabregas is in the center midfield role again and has to deal with the Citizens’ many attacking talents. With so much skill in the opposition, Mourinho had to have told Fabregas to press less and stand off more. Fabregas follows those instructions. 

In both situations above, Yaya Toure gets the ball, but the Spaniard does not bite. While he does go forward, he is not going out to win the ball, but instead to stop it. He wants to slow down the play. In the above sequences, while Fabregas does go out, he is following instructions and fitting into his role. Fabregas is being smart and not reckless. Matic and Ramires understand what their teammate is doing here and the team is sounder defensively as a result of that.

The same happens on Sunday when Chelsea took on Manchester United. A lot has been made of the man marking done by both sides to neutralize the game and rightly so. Both managers had two very disciplined squads that followed instructions and left the match to be decided on set pieces. On Chelsea’s side though, Fabregas is so accustomed to going off and doing his own thing that it is unbelievable that he could matchup with players. He was very disciplined in how he functioned defensively.

In the second half, he defends United’s build up with the rest of the team. As Marouane Fellaini gets the ball, Fabregas doesn’t press the Belgian, but instead he sticks in the line along with Willian and Matic.

In possession, Louis van Gaal’s team made lots of runs to try and drag the two Chelsea midfielders out of position, and at times it worked, but Fabregas was able to restrain himself from going forward to press in the 31st minute, as Matic is ahead of him.

From the two matches against the Manchester sides, Chelsea let in a pair of late goals after going into a defensive shell. The one against City came as a result of poor marking at the back, and a great finish from Frank Lampard, and Robin van Persie’s at the weekend was a result of a set piece. Neither goal was due to Fabregas bursting forward.

In terms of Chelsea’s second half changes, in which Mourinho puts on John Obi Mikel to shut down the match, this is a defensive change that could easily have a more positive flair.

If Fabregas is a natural hunter in terms of how he plays, then these are the perfect opportunities for him to be let off the leash. In chasing games, midfielders and defenders are often panicked, and rely on quick decision-making to get the equalizer. Having a maniac like Fabregas press them is a terrifying prospect for anyone trying to chase the game, as a give away to such a deadly player will lead to a breakaway.

Against United, Fabregas does not do this, and it is an area where Chelsea’s game-management strategies could improve. These situations are the ones where Fabreags can go out and press, because if he fails, two sitting midfielders cover the space behind him.

Mourinho does have Fabregas hassle Daley Blind in the final moments, but the Spaniard is usually stuck just behind Didier Drogba and in front of the double screen. Perhaps this is a situation where Fabregas can get forward with Drogba and press a bit more to try to knick the ball of the opponent in order to start the counter that leads to the killer goal. For this to be effective though, Chelsea cannot be as spread apart as they are below.

Chelsea would have to be more compact, as a unit, for it to work and press higher up the pitch. Even though this is not Mourinho’s style, this tactic is worth a shot.

The biggest problem for Mourinho was always going to be whether or not Fabregas would fit in to his systems, which are opposite to that of Barcelona’s on the defensive end. However, as the season has gone on, it seems Fabregas has bought into his manager’s plans. As a result, Chelsea will have the offensive player it wanted to become the defensive asset it needs.