For a long time, people have questioned the ability of John Obi Mikel, with many not seeing the reason why Manchester United and Chelsea got into a war over his services as a teenager. In recent days, the midfielder has talked in public about the lack of belief that Jose Mourinho had in him during the Portuguese’s second spell in charge of the club. This had an effect on Mikel’s performances, but since Mourinho was replaced by Guus Hiddink, the Nigerian has been a mainstay in the midfield. Chelsea have improved drastically under the interim manager, and Mikel has played a large part in that recovery.
Hiddink has favoured Mikel over Nemanja Matic when he has fielded just one defensive midfielder, which has surprised many considering the massive impact that the latter has had since rejoining the club. This only goes to show just how important Mikel is considered to be by the interim manager, but uncertainty has remained about the midfielder’s future. Hiddink will be leaving in the summer and Mikel may try and get a move away from Stamford Bridge, as his stock is at an all time high at the moment. He has been at the club since 2006 and he may seek a new challenge, especially as Chelsea won’t be playing in European competition.
He has almost been an ever-present since the managerial change has taken place, with the club losing just three times in 20 matches across all competitions. Although there have been a number of improvements under Hiddink, Mikel deserves a lot of credit. The Nigerian has provided the back four with a shield, and he rarely goes forward, which has allowed the full-backs to play a more prominent role. In the opening months of the season, Matic was liable to get caught out of position at times, which caused the defence a lot of problems. Mikel is much more positionally aware leaving Chelsea less open to counter attacks.
Incredibly, Mikel has made no defensive errors this season, while Matic has made two, highlighting once again the reliability of Mikel. The problem with Matic has been his desire to play a more attacking role, while Mikel knows his limitations as a player, allowing him to play a rigid role in front of the back four.
A major positive of having Mikel in the side has been the form of Cesc Fabregas since the change in management. The Spaniard always put in a lot of effort under Mourinho, but he was needing to do too much defensive work, which meant that Chelsea didn’t benefit from his quality in the final third. He has scored four goals and got three assists under Hiddink, compared to just two assists under Mourinho this season. Cesc Fabregas was a major part of Chelsea’s title win last season and his confidence is returning in recent weeks. This will only benefit Chelsea next season, and a lot of credit has to be given to Mikel, as his hard work defensively has given Fabregas more of a license to attack.
Chelsea have become a more robust side under Guus Hiddink, and although they haven’t shown top four form yet, there have been huge improvements. There is now a platform for the champions to push back into the top four next season, as the individuals in the squad have both their passion and confidence back. John Obi Mikel is an unfashionable player and is unlikely to be remembered as being a great player for Chelsea over the last nine seasons. However, he has played a huge part in the recovery and he has seen his reputation as a consistent and reliable defensive midfielder rise considerably. It has yet to be seen if he is viewed as a long term starter for the Blues, but if he maintains this form, he should be.