Carlo Ancelotti has proved that Manchester United can be toppled. Chelsea are four points clear ofÂ Alex Ferguson’s men going into the Christmas break and despite poor results over the last few weeks.
ButÂ Ancelottiâ€™s main concern is the dwindling performance of some his star players notably John Obi Mikel.
Mikel turned heads with his performances for Nigeria at youth level at the 2005 FIFA Under 20 World Youth Championships, where he won the â€œsilver ballâ€ award after being voted the second best player in the competition.
Barcelona and Argentina striker, Lionel Messi won the golden booth award, he was crowned FIFA player of the year on Monday.
Mikel impressed manager JosÃ©Ã© Mourinho and was eased into the team. He was deployed in a defensive midfield role, learning from the man who defined the position; Claude Makelele. Mikel showed solid development and begun to convince Chelsea fans that he was worth the hassle that his transfer bought the club.
With Makeleleâ€s departure at the end of the 2007-08 season, Mikel was given the opportunity to step up to the mantle and define himself within the â€œMakelele roleâ€. However, Mikel has been largely disappointing, especially this season and is beginning to receive a fair amount of criticism.
The defensive midfield role has never been more important to Chelsea than this season with the Italian Ancelotti introducing his famous diamond formation to the midfield. It is a role that has alternated between Michael Essien and Mikel yet the two have been a class apart.
Essien has staked his claim of being Chelseaâ€s most valuable player with a drive and power that is unrivalled in the Premier League. He has produced electric displays such as those against Wolves and Arsenal and has been the fulcrum of the Chelsea midfield this season.
Mikel however, has been unable to fill the role in Essienâ€s departure and I believe it is no coincidence that many of the clubâ€s poor results have coincided with the Ghanaianâ€s absence.
Essien hobbled off in the fixture against Apoel Nicosia after firing Chelsea level with a thunderous 25-yard strike and was replaced by Mikel. Mikelâ€s performance was typical of what Chelsea fans have seen this season, with the Nigerian looking lacklustre in his defensive midfield role.
It is understandable that Mikel does not provide the drive and attacking prowess of Essien, however it is therefore vital for him to exhibit his defensive qualities further yet recent performances have been disappointing. Mikel appears to lethargic and sluggish in the midfield hole and has become prone to lapses of concentration.
His error in the final minutes against Apoel was due to his poor positional awareness and although the goal was of little importance, it is not something that Chelsea cannot afford to do often as they chase Premier and Champions League glory.
Mikel has shown that he has natural talent and the potential to compete at the highest level but it is about time that he stood up to be counted at Stamford Bridge. In Essienâ€s absence he has not performed and it has contributed to Chelsea dropping points.
I for one believe that he is sometimes too restricted and would like to see him drive on like he did earlier in his career and like he can often be spotted doing for Nigeria.
He has power and although he does not pose much of a goal scoring threat, he is still capable of taking the initiative from the midfield. Either way, Mikelâ€s recent performances have been unacceptable and he needs to regain his form and fast.
The African Cup of Nations will come as a welcome break for Mikel, who will look to impress for Nigeria before returning to Stamford Bridge in February.