While Chelsea slumped to their fifth Premier League defeat of the 2012-13 campaign on Saturday, it was the club's absent duo who led from the front as Nigeria progressed to the semifinals of the African Cup of Nations at the expense of tournament favorites Ivory Coast.
Jon Obi Mikel and Victor Moses both played their part as the Super Eagles ran out 2-1 winners over their opponents.
Such is Nigeria's desire to win the competition this time that even an Ivory Coast side full of household names has failed to stop them in their tracks. They look like a good bet to go all the way and lift the cup.
Chelsea, of course, would love to have the pair back sooner rather than later, given the club's recent struggles under their much-maligned interim manager Rafael Benitez.
Where is it all going wrong for the Blues? Squad depth is an issue. As many as 23 players are out on loan, while first-team men such as Eden Hazard, David Luiz and Oriol Romeu have been away from the action for one or another reason. The return of Moses and Mikel can't come soon enough.
It's not just about lack of depth. Chelsea have had a number of tactical issues as well.
They have looked susceptible on break in recent times. To state the obvious, Chelsea lack muscle in midfield.
Jon Obi Mikel is regularly criticized for his lack of contribution going forward. Mikel himself offers a plausible explanation as to why goalscoring continues to elude him, in the process explaining why he rarely joins the attack (via the club's official website):
I'm not always in a position to score, so I don't score, that's the truth. I've always had to sit back and keep the shape.
When I go forward nobody will cover for me so the midfield is open. I hope people see this because I don't know when that goal is going to come! I think I would have to change my position slightly to score goals.
One cannot deny it, team shape does matters. Football is a tactical game, and you don't win games simply by possessing a more talented group of players than your opponent. The presence of characters like Mikel can thus make a big difference.
Averaging 2.5 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game in the Premier League this season, Mikel has been doing his job fairly well.
Most people conveniently overlook what he adds to the team. In his absence, the defense has been shipping goals at an alarming rate.
It is said that he slows the game down, ruining the fluency of Chelsea attacks. Perhaps as you read, you too are itching to point out how he always passes the ball either backward or sideways? Well, you're wrong. That's a common misconception about Mikel's game.
He had a great game away at Norwich not long before he departed for South Africa, and this diagram should go some distance toward dispelling certain myths.
David Luiz was deputizing in defensive midfield until his untimely injury not too long back. It has left Benitez with a serious dearth of midfield options. Indeed, Chelsea have been compelled to start Frank Lampard and Ramires together in the double pivot for seven games running now, and the shortcomings of the partnership were severely exposed against Newcastle on the weekend.
Had he Mikel at his disposal right now, Rafa would have found himself in a much more comfortable position. There's no doubt about it.
Victor Moses, too, is being sorely missed. One has got to wonder why Ryan Bertrand has been starting as a winger lately. It's the case of a square peg in a round hole.
Now that Eden Hazard has served his three-game ban, I would avoid starting Bertrand, or for that matter Oscar, in wide positions.
Marko Marin has found opportunities hard to come by, and there are question marks over his future at Chelsea (per David Kent of the Daily Mail). He's done precious little even when he has seen game time. All this further underlines Moses' importance to Chelsea.
He is one of a kind; Moses possesses bodily strength very few modern-day wide-men do, and he hugs the touchline throughout, presenting a unique threat for his team.
Anyone remember Antonio Valencia's performances from last season? He was phenomenal, and Moses reminds me of the Ecuadorian when he was in his element at Manchester United.
Before he left on international duty, Victor Moses was starting virtually every game Chelsea played. He had become a favorite of Rafa's, so to say. Lesser of a defense liability than Oscar, while fairly effective when combining with Juan Mata and Hazard, Moses was worthy of his spot.
Given that he is Chelsea's only quality out-and-out winger, Moses has left a temporary void behind. I expect him to fit straight into the starting XI when he returns. If he improves on his finishing ability, he might just become indispensable.
Be it Moses' mazy runs down the flanks or Mikel's imperturbable composure in the centre, Rafa Benitez is certainly missing out on a lot of quality. I'd like to reiterate: the inevitable return of this duo can't come soon enough for Chelsea.
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