HEAD-TO-HEAD: Nemanja Matic vs John Obi Mikel - Is Matic the player Mikel should have been?

Nemanja Matic looks to be the player that Jose Mourinho tried to convert John Obi Mikel into as a promising teenager.

Head to Head: Matic vs Mikel

Matic returned to Chelsea in January 2014, following a three-year stay with Benfica that cost the West London club £21 million.

Having previously appeared just twice for the Blues during his first spell at Stamford Bridge, he immediately forced his way into the first-team upon his return, making 17 Premier League appearances as Jose Mourinho finalised one more piece of his puzzle - a puzzle seemingly completed with the summer purchases of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa.

Having arrived with the express intention of playing as one of the double-pivot in Chelsea’s consistent 4-2-3-1 formation, Matic was frequently paired with Ramires or Frank Lampard. With the latter pair very one-dimensional in the current climate, the Serb was required to fulfil very stringent defensive duties, and he acted as no more than a shield in front of an already impressive back-four.

Chelsea veteran John Obi Mikel was the player to lose his place to Matic, and has made just three substitute appearances this season. Having arrived as a prodigious attacking talent in Jose Mourinho’s first spell in charge of the Blues, the Nigerian international was moved into a deeper midfield position to replace the ageing Claude Makelele. However, his youth and exuberance should have allowed the then-19-year-old to cover more of the pitch than Makelele, creating a box-to-box midfielder in the vein of what Matic currently fulfils.

He has never managed to become that player, despite his attacking role for Nigeria and his defensive role for Chelsea, but the 27-year-old remains a valuable squad player at Stamford Bridge, despite constant rumours of a desire to offload him.

Matic however appears to fulfil both roles with ease, and since the arrival of the mobile and creative Cesc Fabregas this summer, as well as a desire to play a more possession bases style of football, a defensive weight has been taken off of the Serb, and he scored his first goal as a Chelsea player in the 6-3 victory over Everton; he has also registered an assist this season, and has played four key passes in five games.

  Mins PlayedShots On TargetKey PassesTouchesAccurate PassPassing Accuracy% Passes Are ForwardAppearances
Nemanja Matic 1814 3 27 1617 1055 85.012087026591% 35.213537469782% 22
John Obi Mikel 1114 2 10 877 639 89.495798319328% 30.672268907563% 27

Despite appearing as no more than a midfielder destroyer, he holds a finesse to his game that compliments Fabregas, and in 1814 minutes of football over the past two season’s, he has touched the ball 1617 times - completing 1055 passes.

On the other hand, Mikel, who has played five games more than Matic, has appeared for just 1114 minutes, touching the ball 877 times, and completing 639 passes.

Not only has Matic completed almost 400 more passes than Mikel, despite having a worse passing accuracy, but he attempts more forward passes, with 35% of passes forward compared to Mikel’s 31%. He is also more productive with his forward passes, playing 17 more key passes than his Nigerian counterpart.

It is a surprise to see Matic as the more creative of the duo, with Mikel an out-and-out attacking midfielder for his country, but it is when looked at from a defensive standpoint that the Serb truly dominates the game.

  Tackles WonClearancesDuels WonInterceptions
Nemanja Matic 76 76 173 39
John Obi Mikel 30 34 67 25

He has completed more than twice the amount of tackles that Mikel has, and offers a more all round defensive game than the Nigerian, thoroughly beating his numbers in every category of defensive action.

With these numbers, it is apparent that Mourinho made the right choice if bringing Matic back to Stamford Bridge, and it may be time for the Portuguese coach to give up on transforming the older Mikel into a midfielder dominator he will never become.

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