John Obi Mikel has probably divided opinions more than any other Chelsea player. However, you simply cannot make more than 250 appearances for a club like Chelsea without being good. There have been several players to come up with a challenge for Mikel’s position, but it is not until the signing of Nemanja Matic that the Nigerian has faced a real threat.
Signed from Benfica for £21 million, Matic has played in every match since his return to the club. Physically, he has only a slight advantage over Mikel, but he is way ahead in terms of his overall contribution. this is what Jose Mourinho said upon signing Matic: “I watched him play dozens and dozens of times because he plays in Portugal – a league I watch every weekend – and I knew he was ready to come to the Premier League.
“That’s why we signed him now, because we didn’t want to lose him. The club did very well to sign him now. Matic has grown as a player during his time in Portugal and he has come back to this club as a fantastic all-round midfielder.”
FACT: This season, Mikel has a 39% success rate in winning headers, while Matic has 59%
Mikel often receives a lot of plaudits for his defensive work and ability to keep the ball. Unsurprisingly, the Nigerian would top the ‘pass accuracy’ statistic (often in excess of 90%) at the end of the match. He would also lead in terms of ‘number of successful passes’. Yet, stats do not tell the whole story and Mikel largely achieves these incredible numbers by passing sideways and backwards. Matic, on the other hand, is a complete all-rounder and he often looks for a forward pass.
FACT: This season, Mikel has an 89.8% passing success rate, while Matic has 84.5%
The game has become so intense that teams cannot have a player just sitting and protecting the defenders. Matic is the ideal central midfielder – one who can tackle, pass, and shoot – as he allows the team to change the shape seamlessly depending on the course of the match.
This, however, does not become the end of the story for Mikel, as he would still be useful in certain defensive situations.
Matic? He is the future.