Cesc Fabregas may or may not be coming to Old Trafford, it's all very uncertain at this moment in time. The discussion of this possibility, though, is not for here* as I merely seek to analyze just how the Catalan midfielder might fit in at Manchester United if the club were able to acquire the services of the Barcelona midfielder.
* Here's our continually updated storystream on the Cesc transfer saga. Those posts would be the more appropriate places for this sort of discussion.
Part of the narrative as to why Cesc might be open to a move back to England is that he's not considered by many to be an integral member of his boyhood club. In Barcelona's 4-3-3, all-time greats and still world-class midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta typically are first-choice in the former Arsenal captain's preferred midfield roles. As a result, he sometimes is shunted out wide to the attacking line or he deputises for Lionel Messi in a false 9 role.
Cesc actually is a hugely important member of the current Barcelona side, even if he's not necessarily an automatic first-choice player for the biggest games. In the past season, he made 36 combined La Liga and UEFA Champions League starts and 24 of those came in one of his two preferred central-midfield roles. His love for the Catalan club and the privilege of playing alongside, as Gerard Pique describes, "his best friends" has likely led to his willingness to be a utility player for them and led to his acceptance -- at least up until now -- of not being a key player in the side. United, though, appear to be pretty convinced that they can persuade the midfielder to join them and if the player genuinely is considering the move, then it's likely because he knows he'd be central to the start of the David Moyes era -- and that's something he's not at Barcelona. At United, there likely would be no shunting Cesc out wide in attack or up front as a false 9 and instead, he would arrive as a world-class No.10 and as a creative No.8 that could provide drive from deep in midfield.
United desperately need reinforcements deep in midfield alongside Michael Carrick, therefore, it would hardly be shocking to see the Catalan line up alongside him in Moyes' likely 4-2-3-1 preferred system. This is the role Cesc played early in his Arsenal days. However, he's generally played higher up the pitch in the past five or six years. In a possible double-pivot alongside Carrick, he likely would be tasked with getting the ball forward into attack through intricate passing or by driving runs while the Englishman would calmly sit deep dictating play and protecting the back four. With Shinji Kagawa ahead of them in a No.10 role, the passing combinations would be delicious and United would be a very dynamic side. Perhaps that is what Moyes envisions with a purchase of the Spain international.
One drawback to this theoretical lineup is that the midfield might lack enough bite. Even with Kagawa exhibiting that he is tactically disciplined defensively in a No.10 role, Cesc displaying that he's willing to get stuck-in, and Carrick's defensive positioning and ability to cut out passing lanes being incredibly under-appreciated, they likely would be prone to being bullied and overrun by elite sides. Collectively, there simply might not be enough steel in the center of the park.
While Moyes would likely use Cesc both as a No.8 and No.10 at United, perhaps he believes it's the latter role that would be his primary one. For both Barcelona and Spain in recent years, he's often been given a 'free' role where he can roam between the lines looking for space to be a creative force from -- this is either from drifting in off the left while Jordi Alba covers the entire flank or in front of Xavi and Sergio Busquets while Iniesta or another player play to the left of him. Operating in this space between the lines is arguably Cesc's best role at the moment and this is when he's genuinely been a world-class player at times in the past five or six years.
While it would be simple enough to drop Cesc into the double-pivot alongside Carrick without causing too many complications in the squad due to the likes of only Tom Cleverley, Anderson, a soon-to-be 40-year-old Ryan Giggs, and a chronically-ill Darren Fletcher as competition, it would be a bit more complicated to do so in the No.10 role due to the presence of Kagawa and possibly Wayne Rooney. Perhaps this is one reason Cesc could see a good chunk games as a No.8 if he were brought in, even though he'd likely be more effective as a No.10. This deeper deployment of such a creative player, though, could be very useful against sides that look to fortify their defenses against United by sitting deep and compact. Rooney being sold would certainly simplify things if Cesc were brought in.
One possibility in attack is Cesc being deployed in the No.10 role while Kagawa is shunted out wide to the left. For the latter, this interiore role is one he has recently excelled at for Japan and he too would presumably be given the freedom to roam between the lines while interchanging with Cesc. Against tougher opposition, this attacking lineup ahead of Carrick and a more feisty deeper central-midfielder** might provide United their best balance.
** This is why if Cesc is bought, Moyes would still do well to bring in another quality midfielder that is combative like Marouane Fellaini.
If Cesc arrives in Manchester, even if he plays in two roles, he will be central to Moyes' side rather than a peripheral figure that accommodates others like he does at Barcelona. He, along with Robin van Persie, would be the players that the new manager would build his side around.