LONDON: The 80-yard dash and knee-slide may not have counted towards the running statistics Antonio Conte likes to study, but the celebration in front of Chelsea's travelling supporters demonstrated the way in which Cesc Fabregas is tackling the biggest challenge of his career.
The midfielder is yet to start a Premier League game under new Chelsea head coach Conte and was left out of the Spain squad after
Julen Lopetegui succeeded Vicente del Bosque. His omission for club and country has raised question marks over whether the 29-year-old has already enjoyed his best days as a Premier League, La Liga, European Championship and World Cup winner.
But Fabregas gave a timely reminder that he is far from finished with the decisive goals in Chelsea's 4-2 extra-time EFL Cup victory over Leicester City, which included the long-distance run to show his appreciation to the fans who want to see him playing more regularly.
Fabregas is working harder than ever to show Conte and Lopetegui what they have been missing.
"It's a new situation for me in my career after 13 years of basically playing everything for my club and national team," said Fabregas, who first moved to Arsenal as a 16-year-old from Barcelona. "And it's been tough. I'm not going to deny it, but the last thing I will do is complain or put my hands up and give in.
"Something from inside is coming out stronger than ever and I just feel like a little boy in training trying to win my spot back as I used to do at Arsenal when I was 16. Hopefully, I will achieve it again.
"After my family, football is everything to me. It always has been.It's a new situation but you have to accept it, you have to be professional, you have to keep your attitude. All my team-mates deserve respect. My coach deserves respect because I know he wants to win and, if he doesn't play me, there is always a reason. Hopefully, I can open his eyes and make him see that I deserve to play." Conte has so far preferred summer signing N'Golo Kante, Nemanja Matic and Oscar as his midfield three in the Premier League.
But the numbers support the argument that Conte must find a way to fit Fabregas into his team. In Chelsea's title-winning campaign, he provided 18 assists and managed to set up seven goals last season during the club's wretched run. The pass he provided for Diego Costa to score after stepping off the substitutes' bench against Watford last month could not have been weighted better.
In his 14 minutes against Swansea City, Fabregas provided evidence to counter the theory that he is not physically capable of adapting to Conte's style by completing more sprints-per-minute than any other Chelsea player. Asked what Conte wants from him, Fabregas replied: "He wants the midfielders to be very complete. To be physically strong. We are training very hard for it. If you have to analyse me, maybe I'm a bit more the playmaker, creative going forward and he wants me to be a little bit more stable and compact in defence.
"For Matic, who is the opposite of me, he wants him to be better offensively. For Oscar, for Kante, he works with every aspect for us to be the best we can. I know what I can do. After 13 years I know myself very well. I am in a moment of my career where I feel very mature. I know physically what I can give. I know when I have to press and I choose much better my game overall. I just want to play and give my all and, hopefully, this will come soon."
Fabregas has succeeded in turning around his relationship with Chelsea's fans. He was one of the players wrongly accused of being a 'rat' under former manager Jose Mourinho and was jeered by a section of the Stamford Bridge crowd following the sacking of the Portuguese. Mourinho had actually regarded Fabregas as one of his strongest allies in the Chelsea dressing-room and considered trying to sign him for Manchester United this summer.
But the ill-feeling in the stands over Mourinho's departure has passed and Chelsea fans have made it clear that they would rather pay to see the creativity of Fabregas over the industry of Oscar or Matic.
It remains to be seen whether
Fabregas and the Chelsea fans are given what they want against Arsenal on Saturday, with Conte facing a tough decision over his starting line-up at the Emirates.
"I'm not going to deny I want to play every single minute," said Fabregas. "It's what I work for, but the coach chooses the 11 he thinks is best suited to win the game. And that's it.
"Wherever I am I will support the team. Inside, outside and when my time comes I will try to perform as I have been doing over the last few weeks.
"Arsenal is a special fixture because I've lived moments there that I've never lived in my career. No matter what I hear or what they say to me, Arsenal will always be a fantastic, special club in my heart."