Fabregas has evolved ... but truly for the better?

Prior to his move to Chelsea, the ex-Arsenal midfielder hadn't had a fixed position for three years

Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea

Picture by: John Walton / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Like Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fabregas seems to have been around forever.

Yet he is only 28, around the age category that footballers - particularly midfielders - tend to be hitting their peaks.

But as he and his Chelsea team-mates cross London to face his former club Arsenal today, you get the sense that his career is at a tipping point.

In brilliant form, with assists left, right and centre in the first half of Chelsea's 2014-15 title-winning campaign, his form has dropped off considerably since then, including the whole of the last calendar year - something that isn't an isolated trend in his career.

Stats alone are not an arbiter of how well a player is really performing, but as a comparison, by this stage last season, had 15 Premier League assists, with Diego Costa a regular beneficiary.

Yet 22 games into this season, the Spain international has bagged only three assists and at times, has been scrutinised over his ability to shield a defence whenever he has been deployed as a deep-lying playmaker alongside Nemenja Matic or another holding player.

Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher for one suggested that the player "lacked tactical intelligence" after the 3-0 loss to Manchester City.

But with uncertainty over his long-term future at Stamford Bridge and a likely freshening up of the squad in the summer, the next few months are crucial if he sees himself in West London for years to come. 

Fabregas initially had the steel of Gilberto beside him in his early career (Picture by: Martin Rickett / PA Archive/PA Images)

Indeed, one problem for him in a playing sense is that positional stability has been hard to come by since he left Arsenal.

When he first joined the Gunners, he was the central hub in a midfield four after Patrick Vieira's 2005 departure, with a greater emphasis on his almost ability to pick out a pass.

But as the years went on under Arsene Wenger's tutelage, he moved further up the field towards a number 10 role with goals added to his game and the team build around his qualities.

The 2009-10 season was especially crucial in that regard as he went from scoring three goals in all competitions the previous year to plundering 19 across the league, cups and Champions League.

But the most interesting development came from his time at international level and also when he went to Barcelona.

Bought by Barcelona as a long-term successor to Xavi, as a more direct footballer who could fit into a myriad of slots in the team straight away, his experience for Spain suggested that he could be deployed in a variety of roles - from False 9 and No 10 to central midfield and support positions around Lionel Messi.

FC Barcelona's Cesc Fabregas, right, reacts after scoring his second goal with his teammate Xavi Hernandez, left, against Osasuna during the first leg of a round of 16 Copa del Rey soccer match at the Camp Nou stadium, in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

And that versatility proved to be a bit of a curse at Barca, where he also never had a defined role upon his three-year return to the Nou Camp, especially in the first season when Pep Guardiola was still in charge.

Hitting double-figures for goals in each of his seasons at Barca, that positive was not accompanied by stability in terms of his role, prior to his initially impressive current spell at Chelsea.

That peripatetic existence won't have helped him hone the tactical side of his game, particularly defenisvely, in his favoured central midfield role.

And what if you were to ask the question: "Is Fabregas a better player than he was just before he left Arsenal for Barcelona?"  

There would be no conclusive answer. He is certainly no worse at his best and given that he is still 28 and never reliant on pace, his level should not drop too soon. And he clearly remains an elite footballer at his best.

But amid rumours of a move away from Chelsea at some point - a mooted switch to Italy has since been dismissed - the fact that a departure in the summer does not feel 100% impossible does say something.