Chelsea 1-0 Crystal Palace: How John Obi Mikel Steadied The Ship

John Obi Mikel at Chelsea

Chelsea 1-0 Crystal Palace, 3rd May 2015.

Mikel was the unlikely move in Mourinho’s game of chess at the Bridge yesterday. Ramires being taken ill provided an opportunity for Juan Cuadrado, which was welcomed by many Chelsea fans excited to see him get more game time, only to see him hauled off at half time.

Mourinho instead turned to John Obi Mikel, a decision probably much less welcomed by Chelsea fans. But an analysis of his performance suggests he provided the team with much more stability, and with Hazard scoring just before half time, Mikel was the perfect man for Jose.

Yesterday’s statistics show that Mikel performed efficiently and effectively (if not attractively).

Number of Passes: 37
Pass Completion: 94.6%
Touches: 43

The reason these numbers stand out are because he only played 45 minutes. To give them some context here’s how some of the other players performed:

Juan Cuadrado: 15 passes, 80% pass completion
Branislav Ivanovic: 35 passes, 85.7% pass completion
Nemanja Matic: 66 passes, 93.9% pass completion
Cesc Fabregas: 95 passes, 79% pass completion

Let’s analyse that a little further.

Cuadrado was the man replaced by Mikel and you can now start to see why Mourinho decided to replace him. Cuadrado attempted the lowest amount of passes (of players on the pitch 45+ mins) and his completion rate is disappointingly low. Granted he’s a winger, and as such the numbers are always more likely to be in a central midfielders favour, however this is a Jose team – and that means we keep hold of the ball at home to Palace. No exceptions.

Ivanovic was probably more understated than usual, but given his work rate and incredibly consistent performances throughout the season, he’s likely a good barometer to measure a player against. Again, I accept that his position may skew the stats in Mikel’s favour.

To make the comparison fairer, let’s compare Mikel’s 45 minutes with Matic and Fabregas’ 90 minutes. Matic was many people’s man of the match yesterday and finished the game having barely given the ball away from 66 passes. That said, when Mikel’s stats are doubled (to represent a full 90 minutes) they would be very comparable to Matic.

Then we have the case of Fabregas – given a defensive role to begin with and pushed further forwards when Mikel came on. Irrespective of his attacking/defensive intent, he was (as usual) Chelsea’s chief passer of the ball given license by Jose to dictate the game. His pass completion (79%) has to be considered disappointing for a player of his quality (only Courtois and Drogba had lower, 45+ mins) .

There’s no doubt the conditions were ideal for Mikel to achieve very positive appearing match statistics, but surely the fact that they hold their own is worth a mention. Employing Mikel to keep the ball when 1-0 up rather than Cuadrado makes absolute sense.

While he’s been used sparingly this season, he has staggeringly racked up a total of 222 appearances for Chelsea. The fourth highest amongst the current squad with only John Terry (456), Petr Cech (332) and Didier Drogba (253) playing more games than him.

John Obi Mikel Trophies Won:

2 Premier Leagues (2009/10, 2014/15)
4 FA Cups (2006/07, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2011/12)
2 League Cups (2006/07, 2014/15)
1 Community Shield (2009)
1 Champions League (2011/12)
1 Europa League (2012/13)

1 Africa Cup of Nations (2013)

It’s a scary thought that he’s pretty much won everything there is to be won except for the World Cup with his country and the World Club Championships (which isn’t one he’ll lost too much sleep over). More frightening still is that he’s now won more trophies (11) than goals he’s scored (9).

Whether he’ll still be at the Bridge when the new season kicks off again in August is anyone’s guess, but I’d wager that Jose would rather keep him in the squad for those rainy days than see him leave for a likely unimpressive transfer sum. Mikel has been a loyal player that knows the club and knows the manager, two things that are arguably underestimated in today’s footballing climate.