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Di Matteo backs Mikel

Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo has claimed that much-maligned midfielder John Obi Mikel does not get the credit he deserves for the role he plays.

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Mikel, 25, has often been caught in the crossfire of criticism from Chelsea fans who have struggled to warm to his talents since his move to Stamford Bridge in 2006.

The Nigeria international was targeted most recently for his lacklustre display in the 2-2 Champions League draw with Juventus that saw him give the ball away for the opposition's equaliser.

However, he has won a glowing endorsement from Di Matteo ahead of Saturday's Premier League clash against in-form Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

"I don't think John gets the credit for the work he does for the team," Di Matteo told the club's official website. "His team-mates and the management team understand and appreciate it, but maybe the fans are more focused on the more creative players and goals scorers, but that role is vital in our team.

"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. He has a thankless task really, and I understand because I played in that role myself a little bit during my career.

"He and the player alongside him need 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. Our team needs organisation in front of the defence."

With a crucial few weeks lying ahead for Chelsea in their bid to cling onto top spot in the Premier League and make progress in their defence of the Champions League, Di Matteo has admitted he is holding his breath ahead of the final round of international fixtures on Tuesday.

"We have Tottenham and Manchester United to come, with Shakhtar Donetsk in between so it's a big period coming up," Di Matteo added.

"Hopefully, when this international break is over, all the players come back in good health and we can start again.

"If you look at our fixture list it is very demanding and packed for a long time, so undoubtedly there will be time and space for everybody to play and show their qualities."

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