With John Mikel Obi serving a three match suspension over the Mark Clattenburg affair, Oriol Romeu, Mikel’s backup anchor man, is likely to come into the fray more in the next few games. Romeu has had only 6 overall appearances for the Blues this season (4 in the league), scoring a penalty against Wolves in the League Cup. He was bound to get a fair amount of time and an almost confirmed place on the bench, after the departures of Essien and Meireles. With Mikel featuring in most of the games, and playing a key role in the team, Romeu has mostly been biding his time on the bench, but things could be changing for him with Rafa’s arrival.
Roberto Di Matteo favoured Mikel over Romeu, his system being more suited to the Nigerian. After the departure of RDM, however, there is one change that Benitez seems to be making that has been overlooked by most as discussions have been mostly centered around him trying to restore the goal-machine inside Torres, and trying to spark life into Chelsea’s out-of-sorts defending. The Spaniard has been giving Romeu more game time than Di Matteo, and he, it seems is trying to integrate Romeu into the team, who was more preferred by former manager Andre Villas-Boas during his reign too. It was clear that he was not good enough for Roberto Di Matteo as the Spaniard only played only a bench-warmer role for the Italian.
Since Benitez took over though, he has already featured in 3 out of 4 games, coming on as a substitute against Manchester City, and starting against Fulham and Nordsjaelland. It seems that Benitez prefers the Spaniard’s comfort on the ball and the connection between his foot and his mind more than the hefty presence of the Nigerian covering the back four. Mikel takes too much time to ponder over where he should pass next while Romeu is pretty quick with the thought-process, which could be the reason why Romeu is being preferred over Mikel. Of course, there has not been much time to see if the Romeu-Ramires partnership is a thumbs-up for Chelsea, we could be seeing it used in the next few games, with Mikel out.
While Romeu sounds a better option in midfield than Mikel with his better distribution, he has not been impressive when he’s played this season, edging between average and poor with his performances. But there is a slight change to Benitez’s system than Di Matteo’s. While Di Matteo played Romeu as a backup to Mikel only, Benitez has his own way with the double pivot. Romeu seems to be playing as a deep-lying defensive playmaker while the mobile engine Ramires seems to be the one covering defense, switching back and forth on the field with his immense pace and tireless running. Romeu seems to have been given a clear task. Get the ball, assess the options, pass it on. While Romeu is no Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso, with the lack of depth in Chelsea’s midfield currently, this might just work for a while and could be a success. It will be interesting to see if this works out.
It could take a little bit of time to gel, but considering the fact that Chelsea’s first match without Mikel is lowly Sunderland, it could work out. It will be a massive opportunity for the young Spaniard to prove his worth to the team and get into contention for a bigger role at Chelsea in the future. It’s up to him to take it or lose it.