The shadow of a Chelsea exit has been looming large over Cesc Fabregas for the best part of a year, but his outstanding performance against Middlesbrough earlier this week was a reminder of the qualities that the Spain international possesses.
He toiled to find form last season but avoided being sold in the summer, despite N'Golo Kante's arrival knocking the 30-year-old further down the pecking order.
It was the first truly bad spell of his career, but he has overcome it and maximised every minute on the pitch since. Nevertheless, he continues to battle Kante and Nemanja Matic for a first-team place.
Chelsea's other two midfielders can't offer what the Spain international does. In fact, no Premier League player is as creative or consistent in their passing - and that includes the likes of Mesut Ozil, David Silva and even Eden Hazard.
Roman Abramovich pulled off a major transfer coup in securing Fabregas from Barcelona in 2014 for a fee of around £30 million. Since that time, he has shown off his classy ball-playing and recorded 36 Premier League assists, more than any player in that timeframe — and that's despite a spell out of the team this season.
Fabregas' speciality is the through ball. Since arriving at the Blues, he has completed 38 of them — another Premier League-leading tally.
Had it not been for his contribution this term, the title may well have proven beyond Antonio Conte's men, for he has provided decisive moments throughout the campaign. Already he has 11 assists to his credit, becoming the first player to reach double figures in that statistic in six different seasons at this level.
Meanwhile, interest in signing the former Arsenal and Barcelona man has been stimulated by his displays, but his love of London could see him stay at Chelsea. And Conte would be wrong to offload a player who has contributed so much.
Opta's expected assists (xA) model — which measures how likely it is that a completed pass becomes an assist based on factors such as pass type, distance to goal before and after the pass, and pass length — also demonstrates just how brilliant Fabregas' passing is. Over the past three seasons, only three players — Ozil, Hazard and Alexis — have a higher xA than Fabregas' 23.4.
@OptaJoe Thank you Opta!— Cesc Fàbregas Soler (@cesc4official) May 9, 2017
Fabregas proved he was aware of his weaknesses in an interview on Chelsea TV in February, as he addressed the subject of his lesser role at the club this season.
“I don’t think my physical abilities are the best — I’m not the quickest, I’m not the strongest, I’m not the sharpest, so you have to be ahead of the game if a player like me wants to succeed in football," he said.
“That’s what makes me very proud because right now every day you see less talent and more power, and players running around. Today it’s more difficult for the more talented players to succeed.
"To be a football player today, if you are very strong or you run a lot or stuff like that it’s easier. That’s why I’m grateful and that’s why I try to get even better because football is growing in a way that before I don’t think it was.”
He is now approaching veteran status and can reflect upon a glittering career, that has seen him win two European Championships and a World Cup with Spain in addition to his achievements at club le
Fabregas is far from finished, though, and he remains as important to Chelsea as he ever has been.