LONDON • Cesc Fabregas is facing a battle to stay a first-team regular at English football club Chelsea because Antonio Conte has doubts about the Spaniard's effectiveness in his preferred tactical system.
The incoming Chelsea manager is planning to use a 4-4-2 formation next season and is concerned that Fabregas lacks the physical capacity to thrive in that system as one of two central midfield players.
Conte admires Fabregas' ball-playing skills and creative vision but fears that he may lack the athleticism and resilience required by a style of play that is very demanding physically.
The Italian has yet to begin work on the training pitch with his new players, although it is understood that his plan A is a traditional 4-4-2, with two wingers and two central strikers.
Eden Hazard and Willian are likely to play on the flanks, with Diego Costa being supported by another striker up front.
Michy Batshuayi, their £33.2 million (S$58 million) signing from Marseille, is a contender for that role alongside Costa, but Conte is planning to recruit another striker this summer.
Alvaro Morata, of Real Madrid, is his main target and Graziano Pelle, of Southampton, an alternative.
With four attacking players in his likely starting line-up, Conte will demand that his central midfielders are extremely hardworking and robust.
Conte expects Nemanja Matic to return to form and start regularly after performing poorly and falling out of favour under Guus Hiddink last season.
Fabregas has not yet been discounted by Conte, but he will find it harder to play regularly than he did in his first two seasons at Chelsea.
The club are also aware that the former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder will not be happy if he is left on the bench, and there is a possibility that he could seek to leave before the end of the transfer window if he fails to convince Conte that he can operate in his system.
Fabregas has not played regularly in a two-man midfield since he left Arsenal five years ago, when he was far more mobile than he is now.
He made a considerable impact in three seasons at the Nou Camp as part of a front three, often playing as a false nine, but rarely with any defensive responsibilities.
Fabregas was outstanding in the first half of his first season at Chelsea alongside Matic with Oscar in front of them, but then-manager Jose Mourinho is believed to have had similar reservations about his physical capacity and defensive shortcomings.
As a result, Mourinho often used him in the No. 10 position, and never used him as one of only two central midfielders.
THE TIMES, LONDON