John Obi Mikel Expected To Play Against Stoke City

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 23: John Obi Mikel of Chelsea is held back by Thomas Hitzlsperger of West Ham during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on April 23, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Here's an interesting tidbit out of Nigeria. John Obi Mikel is expected to play in Chelsea's season-opener against Stoke City despite suffering from a minor ankle injury, agent John Shittu, whose name will probably get me blacklisted by several news aggregators:

His ankle is still hurting him but he will play after taking some painkillers. I know many believed that Mikel would not have a place in the new manager’s team, but I can tell you that he (Villas-Boas) has been very impressed with Mikel, which is why he will most likely play this weekend.

-Source: This Day Live.

On the face of things, that's pretty good news. Mikel is essentially what makes the 4-1-2-3 work, as he's the only Chelsea midfielder capable of playing a lone holding role. Without him the Blues would have been forced into inverting their midfield triangle - if Mikel can take the field Andre Villas-Boas will instead be able to field both Frank Lampard and Ramires higher up the pitch, which is good.

But going back to the injury makes this a headscratcher. Contrary to a few reports, Mikel didn't get hurt during Chelsea's 3-1 win over Glasgow Rangers last weekend, he got hurt in training and... took painkillers to get him through last Saturday's match. Does that sound familiar in any way?

It'd be great if Mikel could play, don't get me wrong, but he's already tied to do this once and it didn't work at all (if you recall, he was substituted late in the first half of that match when the pain proved unkillable). Having a player perform while hurt is a great way to have them play badly and get more hurt, so I sure hope Chelsea's medical team know what they're doing this time. Because if they keep playing Mikel injured, he'll never get to 100%.

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