When I set out to write this article, I wanted to review John Obi Mikel’s performances for Chelsea so far this season, mostly due to how he has impressed me personally but also because he quite often comes under criticism which we will discuss later and eventually try and disprove.
The Nigerian has played well enough, perhaps to convince Di Matteo and the board that letting Raul Meireles and Michael Essien (albeit on loan) to leave is good business in reducing the wage bill and net expenditure, whilst not hurting the strength of the squad to compete for the 5 remaining trophies this season.
Mikel and Romeu are now the only real defensive minded midfielders available in the senior squad, as Lampard still has an attacking mentality and Ramires is the box to box engine. The Likes of Chalobah can do the job very well at a level but is untested and unproven in the premier league level and is out on loan along with around 25 others to gain competitive experience anyway.
Mikel is often seen as a player who completes a lot passes by simply playing the ball back to Terry and his defensive partner (Cahill, Luiz or Ivanovic) creating an artificially high pass completion in an area of the pitch that normally provides time and space to make simple backwards passes.
It appears to be a common belief that this play slows the game down and stops Chelsea from building a quick counter attack or suggests the team is lacking the urgency demanded by some supporters, perhaps gets caught in possession too often and as whole can be unreliable or frustrating for Chelsea fans.
But the statistics tell another story.
Mikel vs Wigan
An opening exhibition from Hazard helped the blues to a 7th minute 2 goal cushion before hitting cruise control for the rest of the game. Mikel had a solid display completing 49 of his 52 attempted passes, receiving the ball 39 times, 19 of his 21 passes were forward, 17 of 17 backward and 13/14 sideways.
Mikel vs Reading
A dominant first 25 from Chelsea with some exciting tiki-taka football and a goal was blown away by an unstoppable header and a mistake by Cech. The Blues rallied in the second half to win 4-2 and Mikel was replaced by Oscar in an almost gung-ho attitude by Di Matteo to salvage the points and the 100% start to the season.
The Nigerian completed 63 of 70 attempted passes, received the ball 57 times. Completed 10 of 13 attempted passes in the final third. 32 of his 39 forward passes were accurate compared to 15/15 backwards and 16/16 square.
Mikel vs Newcastle
Partnering Meireles in a more defensive minded double pivot against a side that beat Chelsea 0-2 at the Bridge towards the end of last season and a side that also finished higher in the league. It was an understandable tactical change by Di Matteo and the statistics show a share in the defensive qualities needed from a midfield to keep Chelsea’s 2nd clean sheet in three games.
The Nigerian completed 60 of his 63 attempted passes and received the ball 53 times. Although clearly not thought of as an attacking player, Mikel completed 5 of 6 attempted passes in the final third.
58 of 61 short passes were completed and 26 of 29 were passed forwards as opposed to just 14 of 14 backwards and 20/20 side to side (square).
Mikel made 11 passes to Meireles his team-mate in the double pivot or central midfield role, unsurprisingly. However Mikel made 8 passes to Hazard and 5 to Torres which is 13 combined and more than Mikel’s total passes to defenders Luiz, Ivanovic and Cech combined.
In summary (59%) 96 of 164 passes analysed have gone to ‘forward players’ – those other players playing in the 2-3-1 of a 4-2-3-1 formation.
29% of his passes have gone forward in the first 3 games of the premier league season compared to just 12% going backwards.
Mikel has completed 13 of 18 final third passes successfully and has maintained 93% passing accuracy his own half as well as 93% in the opposition half.
Mikel Vs Last Season
Last season Mikel made 22 league starts, completed over 982 passes (90% completion). Made 362 passes forwards compared to just 110 backwards, 295 passes went left and 322 passes to the right.
Mikel was dispossessed just 16 times last season, 0.727 times per game or once every 88 minutes (this season he has improved to once every 124 minutes), whilst recovering possession 184 times making 4 blocks and 33 interceptions.
The Statistics from this season and last show a forward playing and forward thinking Mikel, but a player who also understands the need to keep possession by being able to pass sideways and avoid being dispossessed. At Stamford Bridge this season 29% of Mikel’s passes were forwards against Newcastle and 37% against Reading, 72% of his attacking third passes have been accurate and to compliment that Mikel has won 86% of his tackles, 57% of his ground duels and 33% of his aerial duels.
Perhaps the 25-year-old is becoming the core of Chelsea whilst achieving 244 appearances the still young midfielder has a brighter future and the opportunity to flourish in the new look Di Matteo side.
Stats from this article have been taken from MCFCAnaltyics, as well as the Statszone application and the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.