I feel un­der pres­sure but am in more con­trol, says Fabre­gas

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE - By Jeremy Wil­son at the Emi­rates Sta­dium

Cesc Fabre­gas’s post-match choice of words felt al­most as telling as his tow­er­ing on-field con­tri­bu­tion. “I am feel­ing sharp and my brain is quicker than the last few months,” the Spain in­ter­na­tional said.

“I feel un­der pres­sure but I am in more con­trol. In the last year this is the best mo­ment for me.” It was not just a com­pli­ment to the com­mon­sense style of Guus Hid­dink but also an ob­ser­va­tion to fur­ther sug­gest that the cen­tral prob­lem un­der Jose Mour­inho had be­come psy­cho­log­i­cal rather than tech­ni­cal or phys­i­cal.

Yet while sack­ing Mour­inho might have amounted to un­lock­ing the valve that would sud­denly re- lease an al­most un­bear­able pres­sure in­side the Chelsea bub­ble, a cen­tral strand of Hid­dink’s suc­cess so far has been in not re­clut­ter­ing minds.

As a team, they have sim­ply gone back to ba­sics, al­beit with rather more suc­cess than the Chelsea-sup­port­ing Prime Min­is­ter who first coined that par­tic­u­lar phrase.

Hid­dink spoke fre­quently of restor­ing the team’s “bal­ance” in his press con­fer­ence af­ter this vic­tory and the key ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the sur­prise re­turn in hold­ing mid­field of John Obi-Mikel have been Fabre­gas and Diego Costa.

Arsène Wenger’s en­tire ra­tio­nale in not tak­ing the chance to re-sign Fabre­gas from Barcelona was founded on his be­lief that he is not nat­u­rally suited to be­ing part of a deeper-ly­ing cen­tral two but is ac­tu­ally at his most ef­fec­tive play­ing be­hind a cen­tral striker in the same way as Me­sut Özil.

Hid­dink clearly agrees and has duly re­leased Fabre­gas by play­ing Mikel along­side Ne­manja Matic. That, in turn, has had the added knock-on ben­e­fit of en­hanc­ing the qual­ity and pre­ci­sion of the sup­ply lines to Costa. “Fabre­gas is in a line of im­prov­ing,” Hid­dink said. “He played pre­vi­ous games in a bet­ter way as well.

“He likes to be able to play and have that op­por­tu­nity to play. We need that bal­ance in the team, in the cre­ative and the ‘de­struc­tive’ part as well. We have boys who can win the ball back and he can play.”

The gen­tle sim­plic­ity of Hid­dink’s man-man­age­ment is also strik­ing af­ter the more con­fronta­tional style of Mour­inho. What has he done? “Just work­ing ev­ery day, some talk, con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing train­ing and out­side train­ing, try­ing to fo­cus on what they are good at and not lose en­ergy on other things,” the Dutch­man said.

Fabre­gas and Costa cer­tainly had their old swag­ger again here and were ut­terly un­fazed by the abuse that was pre­dictably aimed in their di­rec­tion by the Arse­nal sup­port­ers. Per Merte­sacker’s send­ing off might ul­ti­mately have been the cat­a­lyst for Chelsea’s vic­tory but the sta­tis­tics un­der­lined how the foun­da­tion was laid in cen­tral mid­field and how Fabre­gas so com­fort­ably out­ma­noeu­vred his old team-mate Mathieu Flamini.

Fabre­gas at­tempted more passes than any out­field player and, even while play­ing as the most ad­vanced mid­fielder, was joint level with Mikel on most com­pleted passes. Be­tween them they made 140 suc­cess­ful passes against a com­bined tally of just 76 for Flamini and Özil in the two com­pa­ra­ble po­si­tions for Arse­nal.

John Terry’s sub­se­quent mes­sage that a top-four fin­ish is still at­tain­able surely re­mains over-op­ti­mistic but this was the clear­est in­di­ca­tion yet of Chelsea redis­cov­er­ing them­selves and his­tory cer­tainly sug­gests that they could quite fea­si­bly still sal­vage their sea­son in ei­ther the FA Cup or Cham­pi­ons League.

Hid­dink’s work un­til yes­ter­day in draw­ing four games and win­ning just twice had es­sen­tially felt like plug­ging leaks but this par­tic­u­lar vic­tory could eas­ily be­come a cat­a­lyst for Chelsea’s sea­son. It is their first re­ally big scalp since the cor­re­spond­ing fix­ture in Septem­ber and po­ten­tially trans­for­ma­tive to the col­lec­tive con­fi­dence. As well as Mikel, it was also no­tice­able that two other mem­bers of the old guard – Branislav Ivanovic and Terry – are show­ing clear signs of re­ju­ve­na­tion un­der Hid­dink.

Af­ter his pre­vi­ously suc­cess­ful spell here six years ago, it also re­in­forces the im­pres­sion that Hid­dink, rather like Carlo Ancelotti, has the ideal calm­ing tem­per­a­ment to man­age a club with Chelsea’s ca­pac­ity for up­heaval and con­tro­versy. Hid­dink is not the long-term choice and has never sought to be but, should other op­tions sub­side this sum­mer, there are likely to be few dress­ing-room ob­jec­tions to an­other sea­son un­der the Dutch­man.

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