BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 02: Cesc Fabregas played 63 minutes before being subbed off against Valencia. He missed two chances, a bad habit that he must curb to help Barcelona reclaim La Liga. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
It all started so well. After spending eight years in England, Cesc Fabregas had finally stepped onto the grass at the Camp Nou wearing a blue-and-red Barcelona shirt. The boy who had grown up in Barca's La Masia academy made the most of his debut, providing a key pass for Lionel Messi in a 3-2 win over Real Madrid.
And it just got better from there. In the first half of the season, Cesc was on target for 14 goals. But something - or many things - went wrong. In the second half, his scoring form was as bad as it had been great in the beginning of the season, as he scored just once more.
This season, Fabregas has yet to score and the fans are getting antsy. In the win over Valencia, Fabregas had two good chances and he could not convert. Fabregas remains an important piece of the puzzle, but he will need to start putting chances like those away to help bolster the Blaugrana's title chances.
It seemed so simple last year. He tallied his first goal with a thumping effort as Barcelona captured the Euro Super Cup over FC Porto. He continued to play at a great level, scoring goals left and right, most notably a dagger against Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu and one in the FIFA Club World Cup final win over Santos.
What a start! In total, Fabregas scored 14 goals in almost precisely half a season. But after the 18th league game, where Cesc found the net in a 1-1 draw against Espanyol, he would only find the score sheet once more for the rest of the season.
While he still played well for the most part, the way he routinely seemed to miss easy chances was becoming unacceptable. Then-manager Pep Guardiola unleashed his frustration in a win over Valencia, by taking him out of the game and giving him a shove.
Guardiola would comment that for such a great player, it was disappointing how often he made the opposing goalkeeper look good. But even this extreme reaction did not jolt Cesc into scoring. In fact, he has not scored for Barcelona since February 8 of this year.
There is an asterisk in that statistic, however. He was first choice central forward for Spain as they captured Euro 2012, and he scored two goals in that competition. Not only that, but he was a great provider, helped the team retain possession, and led the line very well for someone with limited experience as a central forward.
Cesc showed some frustration after he was subbed off after 63 minutes and two important misses in the last game playing against Valencia.
"I never before trained this hard. I arrive first, and leave last. Physically, I feel great. I lost 4 kilograms compared to last season," he said. For all that work, he complained that "there's no such thing as a great substitute in the world of football."
The media hype machine is churning, with some websites and papers which will not be named already linking him with a move back to England.
That's premature, to say the least. The leadership of the team has confidence in Cesc, and he has many friends in the locker room.
How to cure a great striker's goal drought? Well, there are a number of factors. Some say it is because he is not playing as much as he would like. Others say it's because he is playing at too many positions. Still others say he has not yet understood Barca's system fully, and that he feels lost not being the focal point of the team.
There is some truth in all those, just as there are counterarguments ot all of them. But many times it is simply down to the player getting his confidence back.
WBA sports psychologist Tom Bates said that strikers must be reminded that even when they do not find the back of the net, they can still contribute.."If you can get the player to see that actually in other areas he is performing, then that will have a positive impact, as he will realise that his performance is much more than just scoring goals," he said.
Barcelona seems to be taking that approach. "Cesc is important for the team," vice-captain Xavi told AS. "He will make a difference over the course of the season and score some vital goals."
"The second year is always better," manager Tito Vilanova said of Fabregas's form at a news conference. "I am convinced he will have a great season," he finalized.
For the sake of Cules everywhere, let's hope that prediction becomes a reality.