As Ashley Cole heads for the exit door after eight fantastic years at Chelsea, another former Arsenal player is now preparing to make his mark at Stamford Bridge; it was confirmed that Cesc Fabregas has completed his move from Barcelona. While there is the obvious spot of schadenfreude to indulge in considering that the Blues will now be fielding one of their London rival's favourite sons, the move has been made with Chelsea rather than Arsenal in mind.
Fabregas will wear the No. 4 shirt, one that passed into Chelsea folklore during Claude Makelele's time at the club, and if the 27-year-old comes anywhere close to emulating the impact and influence of that midfield titan, then it will prove to be a very successful signing. The Spaniard's role in the side, however, will be a markedly different one from that played by his illustrious predecessor.
It is no secret that, in an ideal world, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho would like his side to be more attacking. Indeed, the first few months of the last campaign were designed to do just that. Unfortunately, a stretched defence and an impotent strike force compelled Mourinho to adjust his priorities. One of the areas in which Chelsea have been traditionally weak in the past few years has been central midfield and, although their ball-winning capability was enhanced by the January signing of Nemanja Matic, there has been a distinct lack of creativity in that part of the field.
Of course, nobody knows for certain where Mourinho is planning to deploy Fabregas next season, though it can be reasonably assumed that he will be playing in a deeper role given Chelsea's surfeit of attacking midfielders/forwards. That is not say that Fabregas will not feature there, as his incredible versatility means he can play almost anywhere except in defence or between the posts. He will provide the manager with options, not just in terms of personnel but with regards to system, as well.
Mourinho has largely been wedded to a 4-2-3-1 since his return to West London, though Fabregas' arrival could result in a 4-3-3 shape more regularly. This has the luxury of allowing Fabregas to utilise his vision alongside both the physicality of Matic and the energy of Ramires. It would provide the option of playing three distinct, but complementary, midfielders at the same time, which would add balance when attacking and defending.
That is merely conjecture, however, so the assumption for the time being must be that Fabregas will feature in a defensive duo alongside Matic, with the remit to probe from deep. On paper, that partnership appears to dovetail beautifully, and if that is mirrored on the pitch, Chelsea could well have the answer to one of their long-running problems.
Fabregas might be known largely lately for his forays into and around the opposition penalty area, though he also possesses a cunning eye and an excellent pass. Don't forget that he was initially brought to Barcelona in the hope that he would eventually succeed Xavi Hernandez in the string-pulling role. While that plan might not have come to fruition successfully, there is nothing to suggest that he can't fulfill that promise at Chelsea. The fact that he has a Frank Lampard-esque knack of arriving in the penalty area at the perfect time is an added bonus but is not the sum total of his play.
Indeed, it would be interesting to hear Lampard's assessment of Chelsea's latest recruit given the regular on-field skirmishes between the two. The mutual disdain was always clear, though it would be a surprise if either did not have the utmost respect for the other.
Of the present members of the dressing room, Oscar can perhaps feel the most threatened at the acquisition of Fabregas. The Brazilian is perhaps the most similar in style to the new arrival, and there is the possibility that it is his place that will be taken if Mourinho decides to play his latest signing farther upfield. Additionally, there remains a nagging frustration that Oscar has been used so sparingly in the deeper role that Fabregas is more likely to fill. On the few occasions that Oscar has been positioned there, he has exhibited both the creative nous and the defensive mentality to feature more regularly. Successive managers appear to disagree, however.
Either way, the presence of Fabregas at Chelsea next season clearly enhances the quality of the squad and will make the competition for places ever more fierce, which can only be a good thing. A couple more signings of similar caliber, and Chelsea can start to train their sights on the Premier League title.