Pitchside

Why Mikel was the secret behind Lampard’s success

Pitchside

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Frank Lampard returned to goal-scoring form on Saturday, scoring a brace to help Chelsea condemn West Ham to the bottom of the Premier League form table.

The England centurion rolled back the years against his former club as the Blues secured their first win in the league in November and moved up to third in the table.

In Chelsea’s last league outing, the 2-2 home draw with West Brom, Lampard was played alongside Ramires in central midfield. He played his normal game, often positioning himself in advanced areas of the pitch, but the presence of three attacking midfielders (Eden Hazard, Willian and Oscar) in front of him meant that he did not touch the ball in the Baggies’ box. In fact, he only stepped foot in the West Brom area for 1.3% of the game.

It also meant Chelsea were left exposed defensively as they lacked a natural holding midfielder.

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However, at Upton Park, Jose Mourinho deployed John Obi Mikel in the holding role, withdrawing Willian from the starting XI and thereby leaving plenty of room for Lampard to venture forwards. The England midfielder did not have to worry about tracking back as much, due to Mikel’s inclusion, as he knew the Nigerian would always be there to shield the back four.

Mikel’s Heat Map shows that he acted primarily as a screen for the defence, which allowed Chelsea’s other midfielders to focus on more pressing matters further up the pitch.

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Whilst the Nigerian did nothing flash, his sheer presence was enough to give Chelsea the required balance that was missing during their defeat away to Newcastle and home draw against West Brom. Mikel only scored a Performance Score of 13, but when he was in possession he was extremely reliable in feeding the more advanced midfielders, completing 94% of his passes.

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At first glance, if you compare Lampard’s Action Areas from the West Ham game to the West Brom game, there doesn’t seem much difference but the fact that there was one less attacking midfielder in the team gave him much more room to play. It also allowed him to make those famous late runs into the box as there was more space in which to do so. (Compare the graphic below with the one at the top of the page)

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His Heat Map further emphasises this point. Pay particular attention to that little blob on the edge of the West Ham box, in-and-around the penalty spot.

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Lampard had much more time on the ball to thread passes through West Ham’s defence. In total, he completed five key passes. One came from a corner, one from a cross and three from open play.

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But it was Lampard’s return to form in front of goal that will rightly get all headlines. Both of his goals came from that famous position in the middle of the box around the penalty spot, as he profited from a playmaker being removed from the team for a holding midfielder.

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Lampard’s clinical display shows that he is at his best when part of a three-man midfield with a holding midfielder behind him.

When he is played alongside Ramires, there is an obvious lack of cover for Chelsea’s defence. The inclusion of Mikel may not be declared a masterstroke, but it was the perfect tactical decision from Mourinho.

He may be struggling to fit all the expensive attacking midfielders that Chelsea have into the team, but in terms of getting his tactics right, Mikel is vital to Mourinho's system as he is the best defensive midfielder they have at their disposal.

It makes you wonder why they shelled out £30 million on Willian in the summer when it was obvious which position they needed to strengthen.

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This screenshot was taken from the Squawka Football app - Download it here

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