Mikel Obi: Starter, Role Model, Leader? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Mikel Obi: Starter, Role Model, Leader?

Posted: Jan 4, 2016 at 11:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Chelsea are not yet as fluid in attack nor defensively sound as last season, but they’re getting there. In three games Hiddink is yet to taste defeat, and Chelsea have now kept consecutive league clean sheets for only the second time since April 2015. At Selhurst Park they were somewhere close to brilliant, in total control from the moment they took the lead.

“That’s why we’re champions,” the Chelsea supporters chanted, at least nodding in the direction of irony. The second-half olés did the same. Before this weekend, only five Premier League teams had conceded more goals and six faced more shots on target.

During his last spell at Chelsea, Hiddink’s team conceded nine goals in 13 league games, keeping seven clean sheets. This is the Dutchman’s modus operandi. With that in mind, it was a shock to see Nemanja Matic left on the Chelsea bench for an away league game for the first time since rejoining Chelsea.

The Serbian is no longer an auto-Matic selection. More surprising still was John Obi Mikel retaining his place in central midfield. The Nigerian enjoyed consecutive league starts for first time since December 2014. ‘Enjoyed’ is the operative word. Fabregas’ performance may have caught the eye in contrast with his recent average, but his attacking endeavour was afforded by Mikel’s excellence alongside him. Mikel had a higher passing accuracy (95.2%) than any other player on the pitch, and no other starter – bar Hazard -lost possession on fewer occasions. His positional discipline, occasionally his downfall, was exceptional. So often was he in position to thwart Palace’s obvious threat on the counter attack.

See too Mikel’s role in Chelsea’s first goal, spinning away from an opposition midfielder before feeding Fabregas. So much of his important work in that defensive midfield role is overlooked, yet his flaws never are. This was the display we’ve been waiting for from Matic. “Look at the spine of that team – Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel,” said Hiddink on Saturday of his 2008/09 squad. “The centre was strong. It was a different team with different personalities.”

Before the victory over Palace, namechecking Mikel in that company appeared highly generous. Now it seems wholly appropriate. Mikel’s redemption at Chelsea might seem unlikely, but this dire campaign and Hiddink’s arrival wipes the slate clean; nobody gets into this team on reputation. If Mikel continues to play at this level, he will be impossible to shift. Surprise starter has become surprise role model.

Culled from football365.com