A Tactical Insight: How Mourinho and Mikel Manage to Confuse the Opposition

Have you ever thought why John Obi Mikel, the perennial squad player of Chelsea is one of the manager’s most favourite players?

He is apparently one of the most popular guys on and off the pitch and has a very good bonding with John Terry, Petr Cech, Didier Drogba and even with ex-Chelsea players such as Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole.

Being in the club since eight years, he has taken the Premier League norms and Chelsea’s culture in his stride and has grown into a loyal servant. Many football critics and fans across the globe ask, why is he still in Chelsea and how he makes it before the final whistle?

The 27-year-old midfielder does nothing spectacular in the midfield but is still considered as a very important piece of the jigsaw by all the managers who have managed Chelsea in the hire and fire system. He has most certainly been playing better for Jose Mourinho than for any other manager. But there is a key tactical reasoning to why Mourinho of all men, who wants to make surgical changes to the Blues and build an empire, rates Mikel as a very important player, someone who makes regular cameos from the bench.

The changes on the pitch with Mikel coming on

John Obi Mikel usually is put in play during the last 15 minutes, and he usually replaces a wide midfielder (Schurrle/Willian) or the number ten player who is usually Oscar. Apparently, he doesn’t occupy these positions on the pitch.

Chelsea has versatile attacking midfielders capable of playing in any position behind the striker. Oscar if playing number 10, easily shifts to the right or left wing, and if Oscar is the one who comes off for Mikel, then Cesc simply occupies the empty number 10 spot. The key change is always the same- Cesc Fabregas pushing forward, relieving him of the defensive duties allowing him more freedom on the pitch and the permission to play in the void behind Costa.

Mikel’s coming on is instantly perceived as a defensive tactic, but is it?

Most fans moan when Mikel comes on in the match. Even the commentators talk about Mourinho shutting up shop and playing defensive in the final minutes of the match. That used to be true in the older days, or just say last season, when Mikel used to help the team hold on to the lead or draw the match, but now the scenario has changed. Mikel is a hard tackler when instructed and is a player who without much technique, can help keep possession with his short passing and strength in midfield.

A player like Fabregas needs a regular dose of passes, when he is in the number 10 position, as the more forward he plays, the lesser he gets on to the ball. Mikel does the dirty job of winning possession and passing it to Fabregas. Also, the Nigerian’s position play is such that when Matic wins the ball, he always has Mikel for support when he is under pressure. He maintains a link between Matic and Fabregas and vice versa. Mikel won’t push forward so that Fabregas can play his natural attacking play and not be worried about the hole of space left behind him. Mikel’s lack of forward activity also means Fabregas has the added responsibility of offensive duties, which he prefers to do instead of the defensive job.

Conclusion: Mikel’s play is a beautifully disguised offensive tactic

Mikel is a player who is helping Mourinho make the most of his team due to his reputation in world football. Everyone thinks of Mikel as a defensive block and someone who would offer a bare minimum in offense. The opposition is also forced to think this way and they bombard and commit men forward often playing into Chelsea’s hands as the Blues are a strong counter-attacking team (eg, Diego Costa’s goal vs. Arsenal took three passes- Terry to Mikel, Mikel to Fabregas, Fabregas to Costa and goal.)

Also, if the opposition takes him as an offensive tactic, then they can choose to sit back and take the onslaught from Fabregas and company. But again, if Chelsea are leading and Mikel is on the pitch against a team that doesn’t want to press further, the game is as good as won. Mikel is thus, a great offensive tactic in disguise- something that gives balance and tactical superiority to Mourinho and Chelsea over their opponents.

Edited By: Harshal Ahire

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