Antonio Conte hails the 'fantasy' Cesc Fabregas brings to Chelsea
Antonio Conte has hailed the "fantasy" Cesc Fabregas has brought to Chelsea's pursuit of the Premier League title.
The Spain international, 29, has surprisingly often been a substitute this season, despite consistently impressing and his undoubted influence when selected.
He has often appeared off the bench to change some of Chelsea's more difficult games after his manager's preference for the combined physicality of N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic.
His starting of their past two league fixtures also means he could again be selected for Saturday's game at Stoke, but even with Eden Hazard, Kante and Diego Costa playing so well, Conte is adamant it is Fabregas who should not be overlooked.
Hazard's creativity and Pedro's movement have brought much to what has been such an impressive attack, but of the midfielder who has become to Chelsea what impact substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was to Sir Alex Ferguson's dominant Manchester United, Conte said: "Cesc gives you great quality, great fantasy and assists.
"It's important to manage the situation and understand when it's right, for example, to play with Cesc or with Matic. We are talking about two great players, with different characteristics. Nema is more physical, more technical, less fantasy than Cesc; Cesc has more fantasy but is less physical than Nema.
"He has always had a great impact, whether he starts a game or comes on. He always has a great impact. He's technically very good, and can put the ball where he wants. He's a great player. Often he's decisive with the pass, with the assist, and also to score a goal.
"This season, he has improved a lot in all aspects and, for me, he is a really, really important player."
For Conte to insist a player who has won the World Cup and two European Championships is improving would usually seem an exaggeration, yet last season was Fabregas' worst in English football, when Chelsea surrendered the title and Jose Mourinho was sacked.
Insufficient first-team football led to him leaving his boyhood club Barcelona for Chelsea in 2014, but Conte's team are closing in on the title and therefore a return to the Champions League, which would likely lead to him playing more.
"Cesc, this season, is showing to be a great professional but, above all, a great player," said the Italian. "I'm very pleased to see that in him; his commitment and work-rate. This season he has faced a new situation.
"Cesc, in the past, has always played every single game. It's not easy to change. But, for sure, Cesc showed me that he is not only a great player but a great person."
Conte has two injury doubts for Saturday's visit to the Britannia Stadium despite Victor Moses' return to training, but the manager would not reveal his two concerns.
"Victor Moses trained well (on Friday)," he said. "I think he's available but it's important to check a couple of situations and then make the best decisions (for selection on Saturday). I'd prefer to keep those to me."