Chelsea put in a sensational second half performance against Manchester United scoring two goals to force a FA Cup replay, and could have won it.
The decision by Rafa Benitez to introduce Eden Hazard was seen as the turning point as soon after Hazard scored a simply beautiful goal which gracefully flew into the top corner, which then lead to a confident Chelsea controlling the game and scoring again through Ramires.
While Hazard no dobut was highly influential, John Obi Mikel was also introduced at the same time as him in a double substitution.
The introduction of Mikel allowed Ramires to use his great athletic ability and stretch his legs to drive forward which resulted in a goal. Frank Lampard did not perform badly but he is not naturally a holding midfielder, nor does he have the natural body strength that is often quite important when playing in the holding role.
For years since his arrival Mikel has been somewhat of a nearly-man, never quite getting to where he should be – especially based on his talent shown in his early days.
However last season he certainly came of age, putting in great defensive perfomances against Barcelona at the Nou Camp and Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final. Mikel possesses great strength and will always focus on his defensive responsibilities; the great advantage of having him on the pitch is he acts as an insurance policy should the centre-backs move forward and do not get back in time, or are dragged out of position.
The greatest effect that Mikel has on the team is in the 4-2-3-1 formation; he allows the second holding midfielder freedom to roam and drive forward. The ideal partner for him is Ramires. As displayed on the weekend with these two on the pitch “The Blue Kenyan” can march forward as a box to box midfielder.
The one trait that many fans of Chelsea have against Obi Mikel is his passing and the fact it isn’t always accurate and he tends to go sideways or backwards. There are times where this does become tiresome, but his role is one that isn’t designed to be exciting. His job is to breakdown the attacks of the opposition and get Chelsea’s started without giving away possession in needless fashion.
Chelsea are blessed to have someone like Mikel, who is happy to glide along unnoticed whilst being one of the most important players in the squad.
Now he has grown into one of the best, Chelsea supporters must recognise this and not take him for granted.
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image: © Ben Sutherland