Here are some of my thoughts on some players and issues at Chelsea
John Mikel Obi
Questions will continue to arise as to the usefulness of Mikel Obi in the Chelsea set-up. Mikel is naturally an attacking midfielder moved into the anchor man role at Chelsea. Back in his country, many Nigerians feel this role fails to exploit his natural abilities (good passing, balance and an understanding of the game) while some are convinced he is unable to play as an attacking midfielder anymore.
Mikel currently occupies a role in front of the defence. As Ancelotti’s Chelsea have a desire to play the ball, work with passing angles, create options, a defensive midfielder with impressive technical and tactical attributes is key. Mikel possesses impressive passing ability, and has the creativity to play as a playmaker for a top side but in this role, he utilizes his passing and positional sense to keep the side ticking. Receiving the ball from the back-line, he utlizes his good balance and composure under pressure to hold off any markers and pass the ball on to his mates.
This role is key to the Chelsea side and any observer would note that a Nigel De Jong would do Chelsea no good in this position. And Mikel himself is no stranger to the dirty side as his card tally shows. For those willing to criticize Mikel at any opportunity, it should be noted that he is still only 23 years old (7 years younger than Makelele when Makelele joined Chelsea) and that should count for something. A young ball-playing defensive midfielder with a lot to learn who has been key to a Chelsea side that has won 2 Premier League titles and has been runner-up twice in his time at the club and that clearly is impressive.
NB: Mikel would be a superb sub for Busquets (a tactically brilliant and technically sound anchorman) at Barcelona as Mikel is a passer first. He definitely would do a better job than Mascherano playing as a third -centre half or advancing up to close opposition.
Ramires happens to be a player signed for fees in the region of 18 million pounds by Chelsea at the start of the season. He didn’t begin his time at the club in the best of circumstances and some believe Ramires isn’t Chelsea-class. Ramires in recent weeks has featured more frequently in a right-sided midfield role for Chelsea. If Chelsea wish to employ a 3-man midfield, Ramires’ ability should mean he doesn’t deserve to start. A midfield trio of Mikel, Lampard and Essien would be best as Ramires happens to be Essien-lite. Essien should occupy this role utilizing his box-to-box attributes, with Mikel playing as the holding player. The creativity of the side should fall on the likes of Malouda, Drogba, Lampard who should all have no trouble carrying out this shared responsibility. Mikel would play as the ever available option to keep the side ticking with his possession retention based passes. Ramires would be the ideal sub for Essien in this system.
Frank Lampard’s Position
Many are keen to point out that to utilize Lampard’s impressive passing ability and drive from deep, his best position is in central midfield where he can be constantly involved and not at the tip of a diamond. This is a counter argument which states that Lampard would be ideal to play at the tip of a midfield diamond behind two strikers if need be.
Playing at the tip of diamond does not mean being shackled to a position on the pitch. Now it is important to bring up a player who is quite similar to Lampard and plays in such a position for another top European side. Dejan Stankovic, a player whose strengths include timing his runs from deep to score goals frequently plays at the tip of the diamond for Inter Milan. Stankovic drops deep into midfield, helps the build-up, the passing game, then times late runs into the box to score goals. This happens to be Stankovic’s interpretation of this role and he is quite effective at it. Lampard’s style isn’t too dissimilar from the sequence described above. So it is important to note that while it is popular to claim Lampard can not play at the tip of the diamond, he just might be perfectly suited to playing this role. Lampard also played with Zola and one of the advantages of playing with the Europeans lads back in those day was insight on being technically sound, being two-footed and the ability to play in different roles in a side. All that is important is interpretation.
Torres and Drogba
Now this happens to be the key issue at Chelsea at the moment. Chelsea have managed to acquire two players who naturally enjoy occupying the “same space”. It is very important Ancelotti finds a system that accommodates both players. Drogba’s increasing tendency to drop deep into channels with the aim of creating chances and to make late runs and Torres’ tendency to play as a poacher might see both strikers develop a partnership but this takes is time.
At this point, it is important to draw similarities between Chelsea and Inter Milan. Both have Italian managers that have employed the 4-3-1-2 system. Both have a top striker who many believe will be on his way out in the summer in Diego Milito and Drogba. Both have the pacey striker in Nicolas Anelka and Samuel Eto’o who enjoy working channels. And ultimately, both have recently acquired young strikers born in 1984, though it is believed one’s best years are ahead in Giampaolo Pazzini while some are of the opinion Torres’ best years are behind him. At Inter Milan, Leonardo found it very easy. Milito’s form this season when he hasn’t been injured hasn’t been superb (though the connection with Eto’o is still impressive) and Pazzini scored two goals and contributed to a third on his debut. Milito also got himself injured so Pazzini automatically got to start at Inter. Ancelotti might just need the Injury to help himself sort out his problems.
Barring an injury to either, in order to appear strongest in terms of personnel, Ancelotti needs to work out a system to include both and this solution isn’t as impossible as some may believe.
– Mikel should be key to any plans Chelsea has as his positional sense and passing ability help the side tick. Such a defensive midfielder is key to any club employing a three-man midfield that aims to play pass-and-move.
– Ramires, though a good player should not be a starter at Chelsea. While this is not to say he is anything like mediocre, Essien and Ramires offer similar positives to the Chelsea side and Ramires would be ideal as a squad rotation player.
– Lampard, a technically refined (for an Englishman) midfielder can play at the tip of a diamond for Chelsea if required as the interpretation of the role is what is important
– On Torres and Drogba. An injury to one of either would help Ancelotti decide on his top striker as it has helped Leonardo at Inter. The only time both have played together was against Liverpool in a three-man defence built to cope with two strikers and against a two-man defence (used by most premier league sides), their combination might be more effective.