Pitchside Europe

Why Branislav Ivanovic is Chelsea’s most underrated player

Eden Hazard steals the show as the brilliant youngster, Frank Lampard stands up as a living legend on the pitch and Nemanja Matic pencils himself in as the prodigal son turned shiny new £21m signing.

Table-toppers Chelsea have plenty of firepower and household names to look to for headlines on a day-to-day basis, but at the heart of all their efforts lies one of the most consistent presences in the Premier League.

Strong, versatile, determined and a consummate professional - all terms that could be used to describe one Branislav Ivanovic.

In a squad like Jose Mourinho’s that boasts both exciting youthful talents and an old guard still carrying the flame, at times it’s almost too easy to overlook the Serbian, even despite the fact he’s an absolute rock in the starting XI for the Blues.

Only three times in the Premier League has the 29-year-old failed to complete a full 90 minutes this season, as he was forced from the pitch with an injury against Liverpool in late December to miss the two following contests.

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Outside of this these three games, Ivanovic has played every minute available to him, serving as a constant for a side sitting in pole position in the race for the title.

It’s Ivanovic’s consistency in tandem with his quality that makes him such a vital cog in Mourinho’s system, his ability to affect games from the right-back position beyond the capacity of the high majority of his counterparts.

From a defensive standpoint, the Serbian’s physicality and precision makes him a force to be reckoned with.

Along with having made the fourth most tackles in the Chelsea squad with 39, he’s proved the most efficient in the art, barring strikers Demba Ba and Samuel Eto'o strangely enough, leading the way with a 58% success rate.

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And in the air, Ivanovic is unparalleled by any of his team-mates, having won 93 headed duels at 70% - 23 more than his closest competitor, Gary Cahill.

Add in 139 clearances on the side and the picture of a staunch stopper comes into full focus.

But what’s most impressive is that Ivanovic is able to accomplish all that he does at the back whilst maintaining a dangerous edge going forward.

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Not the sprightliest of full-backs at 6 foot 2 inches and carrying a frame more indicative of his former life as a central defender, he makes use of a bright mind and excellent technique rather than pace to succeed going forward.

With 11 take-ons to his name, Ivanovic isn’t one to constantly look to beat his man with skill, but he is a discerning dribbler who can employ trickery to make his way through if the situation calls for it.

When finding enough space to make a delivery, he has a penchant for picking out his man - as proven by 15 chances created to date - and is able to whip the ball into the box from out wide, or cut inside to exchange passes in more central areas.

And not to be forgotten are his contributions in front of goal - three strikes trailing just Seamus Coleman and Martin Skrtel for defenders' goals in the Premier League.

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Ivanovic is also known to be quite timely with his goalscoring exploits - having most notably having hit the winner in the Blues’ massive clash with Manchester City earlier this month, adding to a list of notable efforts including the winner in last term’s Europa League final and a brace against Liverpool in the Champions League knockout stage in 2009.

Ivanovic’s excellence isn’t lost on the Chelsea faithful - he’s a fan favorite for his tenacity and all-action displays.

But perhaps the Serbian isn’t appreciated to the fullest extent outside of west London, his importance to the club’s cause not receiving the far-reaching recognition it deserves with others such as Hazard to look to.

Ivanovic is certainly essential to his side’s chances of success this term. Although he does not take the spotlight too often, he provides balance going forward and crucially is a rock in defence. This is why he is Chelsea's most underrated player.