Chelsea's midfield problems have been alleviated somewhat by the surprising return to full fitness by John Obi Mikel, who had been missing since damaging knee ligaments shortly before half time in the 3-1 loss to Arsenal last December. The Nigerian has made a faster than expected recovery for the Blues, and Mikel was a substitute for their 2-0 home win over Blackburn Rovers - now he's in line for a possible start against Owen Coyle's Bolton Wanderers. Mikel is one of the top holding midfielders in the league and his return boosts a Chelsea midfield which had been shaken by the possible loss of Frank Lampard going into the game, although a Mikel-Essien-Ramires midfield is hardly inspiring with regards to creative play in the centre.
For his part, Mikel was excited about his swift return:
I'm ahead of schedule, I'm young and I can recover quickly from injuries. I've been working hard in the gym with the physios and they've been doing a great job, then I've been doing extra stuff afterwards in the pool and outside, so everything is going well now.
-John Obi Mikel. Source: ChelseaFC.com
I have to say that I think Mikel is an underappreciated member of the team, and probably their best player through the first two months of the year. His ability to break up play is unmatched, mainly because of the combination of his strength, aerial ability, and positional discipline. Chelsea can rely on him to serve as their defensive shield rather than needing multiple players to do the same job. On the other hand, his passing had been a little bit erratic as of late, and he'd found himself in Carlo's doghouse for a series of poor games right before he hurt his knee.
Anyway, Mikel's presence will allow Chelsea to stray from the 4-2-3-1 they've been using of late and move back to their standard 4-3-3, which should serve to push Nicolas Anelka further towards the areas of the pitch he needs to occupy in order to be a successful striker. Mikel's ability to act as a destroyer enables the other two midfielders to assume much more attacking positions, something Chelsea have been struggling with lately. Of course, there's no strict need to play him immediately, since Ramires earned himself a few starts thanks to his performance against Blackburn and Michael Essien is Michael Essien, but his return to fitness gives Carlo Ancelotti some interesting tactical possibilities he didn't have before.