Frank Lampard and company won a lot of praise for their performances against West Ham on Saturday but a special mention has to go out to John Obi Mikel for providing his manager with the tactical freedom to make it possible.
The Nigerian operates in a role that is unglamorous and it’s a position that many fail to understand and appreciate, even the so-called football experts that provide us with their individual brand of expertise on TV and in the papers, but for his managers having a player that’s willing to do what he does is a breath of fresh air.
From Jose Mourinho t0 Guus Hiddink, from Carlo Ancelotti back to Mourinho again, he has been a pivotal influence with his possession football and willingness to sit in front of his back four whilst providing a composed figure that you can trust with the ball.
In the game against West Ham he replaced Willian in the side and sat deep in order to allow for the gap in midfield that Lampard leaves behind when he ventures forward, it’s something the England veteran cannot really help as it’s his natural game and if you’re going to ask him to play deep you may as well not play him at all.
The result was that Lampard scored a brace and won a man of the match award for what was easily his best performance of the season as he’s been fairly poor the rest of the time, and Mikel posted 94% accuracy in his passing. This is something the 26-year-old does often and having that sort of commanding presence of possession in the midfield is vital in almost any formation in the modern game.
In general I’ve often argued that Mikel is probably the most underrated player at the club and you simply don’t last as long in a squad as good as Chelsea’s unless you’re quality. It’s becoming more and more frequent that the midfielder is earning praise and appreciation for his work and looking at the other defensive midfielders in the league you’d think the British press would be all over him if he was English, like Michael Carrick, but how long did it take before Carrick was recognised for his game?
Mourinho has made Mikel work to get in the side but has already spoken about how important Mikel can be. There was a time when Claude Makelele wasn’t rated by fans nor hierarchy at the Santiago Bernabeu and it was only when he moved to Chelsea that Real Madrid realised what they were missing. I’ve made this point before but it often gets misinterpreted as a comparison between the players, they are both very different as Maka was much better breaking up play, Mikel a better passer and both adept at recycling possession, it’s more about appreciating the player you have before they’re gone.