For some reasons unknown, Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel does not get the due credit he truly deserves. The 26-year-old is now in his eighth year at the club and has featured in 283 matches in all competitions, yet when talking about performances of individuals, somehow he never gets the limelight properly.
In the last decade, two positions in football have undergone a massive change – defensive midfield/deep lying midfielder position and wing play. The concepts of tackler, snatcher, destroyer, metronome, regista, volante –all comes under the sub-divisions of deep lying midfielder. And these are very specialized roles.
For example, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso both are defensive midfielders – but one be called a destroyer while the other can be called a regista or a deep lying playmaker.
Mikel is a typical defensive minded midfielder who operates from the deep. He is very good at – a) tackling b) interceptions c) keeping the possession d) calm and neat passing and e) aerial dominance – an essential component of a defensive midfielder. It has to be noted that keeping the possession is not the primarily role of a defensive midfielder. That’s why you always add a ball-player along with a deep lying midfielder to do that job. His main job is to shield the defence and win the ball back from the opposition. But, it is a bonus for Chelsea that Mikel is very good at passing too and keeps the possession well.
The interesting point is these are very unattractive job and often gets overlooked. More encouraging for a fan is to see a winger dribbling on the flanks or a striker bamboozling defenders. But, football has become so tactical these days; the role of a defensive midfield cannot be ignored.
Mikel struggled in the early years when he came to Chelsea. Probably, that early reputation hasn’t helped him to grow his popularity even today among the fans. But he slowly became an essential part of the team once Makalele left the club in 2008. Also, Michael Essien was used as a defensive midfielder but he is wasted at the holding midfield role because, he brings so much to the game attacking wise. Of course, that Essien is now past and history.
This season Jose Mourinho has used the partnership of Frank Lampard alongside either John Obi Mikel or Ramires for the central midfield roles.
While Ramires is a good presser of the ball (more tackles than any other Chelsea midfielders), Mikel probably controls the midfield better with sharp and short passing. Mikel has a 92% passing accuracy compared to Ramires’ 87.3%. However, this is mainly because of the roles they operate. While Mikel stations himself at the deep, Ramires is more of a box-to-box midfield engine, more adventurous and hence his passing accuracy is comparatively lower. Mikel simply provides a safety-belt for the defenders.
He may not be the most attractive player around (on the contrary, largely under-rated) but very few in the Premier League do the dirty jobs better than him in the deeper role.
He is also not a universally popular figure, and even divides opinion among the Chelsea supporters. This question is mainly for the Chelsea fans – how high or low you rate John Obi Mikel?