The Blues manager has seen his European champions begin strongly with six wins from their first seven outings and he has singled out the 25-year-old Nigerian, who has chipped in with the defensive midfield duties when needed, as one player who has made a positive impact so far.
Di Matteo told Chelsea’s official website: “Over the years he has been almost ever-present, and he has been very important over the back end of last season and this season he started in good form.
“We all make mistakes in games and I don’t think he gets the credit for the work he does for the team. It’s a thankless task really, and I understand because I played in that role myself a little bit, and it’s a role that is important for the team.”
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The Italian has revealed that Mikel’s new role as a defensive midfielder is one of the most important positions within his unbeaten Chelsea side, but admits the fans may overlook how vital that role is.
“His team-mates and the management team understand and appreciate it, but maybe the fans are more focused on the more creative players and goalscorers, but that role is vital in our team,” he said.
“He and the player alongside him have to have a good understanding and communication, so that we always have one of the two behind the ball who is able to provide an outlet for us, to switch play, and also be the first player thinking about if we lose the ball, to be able give organisation in front of the defence.”