Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fabregas vs Fletcher

Henry Winter's column in the Telegraph last week referenced the midfield duel pitting Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas and Manchester United's Darren Fletcher at the Emirates as a footballing angel against the Red Devil, beauty versus the beastly.

Arsene Wenger's verbal attack on Darren Fletcher earlier in the English Premier League season - accusing him of being a dirty player - painted a picture of Fletcher as the opposite of the elegant Fabregas.

Fabregas is arguably the most talented player in the Premiership - a complete midfielder who is as gifted a passer as there is in Europe.

Fletcher's role at United has grown significantly over the past two seasons, as has his influence in United's team as their midfield general. In fact, until Alex Song matured into such an influential presence alongside Fabregas, Fletcher was just the type of steely ball-winner Wenger craved in midfield.

In reference to Fletcher being labelled a 'dirty player' by Wenger, he ironically has received less cautions than Fabregas.

Whisper it around the Arsenal camp but Fabregas's disciplinary record is worse than Fletcher's, a midfielder decried by Wenger as a practitioner of the dark arts of "anti-football''.

Arsenal's elegant captain is patently the more watchable, a stadium-filling cavalier to United's midfield Roundhead, but some perspective needs introducing into the anti-Fletcher debate launched by Wenger.

When the teams met in August, the Frenchman paused in a corridor backstage at the Theatre of Dreams to deliver some acerbic observations about United's No 24. He never mentioned Fletcher by name, simply nodding and smiling when asked whether he was referring to Fletcher.

United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, believes that Wenger's judgment had been skewed by the frustration of defeat. "Darren is not a dirty player,'' stressed Ferguson. Physical? Yes. A midfielder who harries opponents? Yes. But malevolent? No.

Fabregas' playmaking versus Fletcher's ability to close down space makes the match-up a focal point when Manchester United and Arsenal meet.

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