Cesc Fábregas - a name that Manchester United fans will want to quickly forget. The Spaniard was heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford this summer, only for the midfielder to remain at Camp Nou on the back of Thiago Alcántara’s departure to Bayern Munich. Having attempted to lure Fábregas to Manchester on numerous occasions, the Premier League champions were forced to concede defeat in the hunt to snare the former Arsenal ace, instead signing Marouane Fellaini minutes before the transfer window slammed shut.
His arrival ended a period of uncertainty for the club, which saw moves for Ander Herrera and Sami Khedira fail as the Belgian followed David Moyes from Everton to United. Yet, while Thiago has struggled to adapt to life at the Allianz Arena, the same can’t be said of Cesc under Gerardo Martino's new regime at Barcelona. Despite a raft of high-class options to call upon in midfield, Cesc has still played 260 minutes of Barcelona’s opening 3 La Liga fixtures of the season - all wins - as the Blaugrana head into the international break leading Spain’s top tier.
Much of that has been down to the creative exploits of the 26-year-old as he aims to repay the faith shown in him by Tata. Lionel Messi may lead the goalscoring charts with 5 goals in Spain, but the 4 assists of Fábregas - the most in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season - is just as impressive a feat.
To put into context the 10 clear-cut chances he’s created in just 3 appearances this season, consider the fact that new Arsenal signing Mesut Özil created 24 last term, the most in Europe’s top 5 leagues across the whole campaign. This is why United were keen to land Fábregas and, more pertinently, is exactly the reason Barcelona were eager to keep hold of him.
United, as a whole, have created just 2 clear-cut chances in their opening 3 games of the season as they have stuttered in beginning their defence of the title, succumbing to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool and playing out a monotonous 0-0 draw with Chelsea. A player of Fábregas’ ilk would’ve aided in unlocking the resolute defence of either team.
Those 2 clear-cut chances came in the 4-1 win over Swansea City, through attacker Wayne Rooney and winger Antonio Valencia. The fact that no central midfielder has laid on such a chance for United this season shows why they pursued Fábregas to the extent they did.
Yet, while Fábregas has had such a blistering start to the season, his total number of key passes sits at 12 and despite his 4 assists meaning he’s creating a goal 1 every 3 key passes, his key passes tally is still some way off the highest in Europe’s top 5 leagues. Leading that chart is Marseille’s diminutive schemer Mathieu Valbeuna, who has executed 20 key passes in just 4 appearances this term, picking up 1 assist.
Evidently, the 28-year-old will play a pivotal role for Marseille once again this season as they battle with PSG and now Monaco for Ligue 1 supremacy. L’OM netted a meagre 42 league goals last season and it is the responsibility of André-Pierre Gignac to ensure the chances Valbuena creates are transformed into assists.
This ability to execute a potentially damaging pass to hurt the opposition is an asset to any team, but being able to shift the ball in the attacking half is also an essential attribute for any player to possess. In Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, Fábregas (151) and Valbuena (145) feature high up the list of the most accurate passes in the attacking half of the pitch, yet amongst those that they fall behind is PSG’s Thiago Motta (168), who tops the ranks in this regard.
The Italy international had been expected to play a peripheral role with the Ligue 1 champions this season after Marco Verratti signed a new contract this summer, but having started 3 of their first 4 games, the 31-year-old evidently still has a role to play under recently appointed head coach Laurent Blanc. Motta is charged with bringing the ball forwards into the opposition half, yet allowing the more offensive-minded players to attack the opponents.
Unsurprisingly, Motta is yet to register an assist in Ligue 1 this season, with the midfielder sitting deeper to aid in the fluidity of attacks rather than provide the final ball for his goalscoring teammates. But while he won’t necessarily provide this killer pass, he creates for PSG in a different way to Fábregas and Valbuena, but is still important in an attacking sense.
Carving open the opposition is what makes these offensive-minded performers stand out amongst their rivals and Fábregas once again excels at this. Having played 6 accurate through balls this season already - the most in Europe’s top 5 leagues - his blistering start to the campaign accentuates just how important he is in the current set-up with Barcelona.
His 4 assists and 10 clear-cut chances created denotes his value to the La Liga champions, while fans of the club will be hopeful his ability to pull the strings in the side will help them towards their 23rd top tier title. Valbuena and Motta may be shining in their respective roles this season, but it's Fábregas who has been the most impressive creator, ostensibly utilising his vision to pick out a pass to ensure Barcelona have maintained their 100% start to the season.