Analysing the Role of Branislav Ivanovic for Chelsea

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03:  Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea celebrates scoring their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on February 3, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Two goals in as many away matches—Branislav Ivanovic has been worth four points to Chelsea in recent weeks.

Those points were picked up against Manchester City—whom Chelsea defeated 1-0 courtesy of Ivanovic's excellent strike—and West Bromwich Albion after the Baggies grabbed a late equalizer on Tuesday to cancel out the Chelsea right-back's first-half goal to earn a 1-1 draw.

That the Blues sit top of the Premier League right now on the back of those results outlines the value Ivanovic continues to bring to Jose Mourinho's side.

Indeed, he is often criticized for not getting forward enough and supporting Chelsea's attackers effectively. Looking at his recent performances, however, it seems that perception isn't holding much weight right now.

Against City, for instance, the Serbian spent an almost equal duration of the game in the opposition half, helping put the home team on the back foot.

Branislav Ivanovic's action zones against Manchester City
Branislav Ivanovic's action zones against Manchester CitySquawka

Much has been made of Mourinho's tactics that night. Whereas the Portuguese was expected to arrive at Etihad Stadium and park the proverbial bus, he opted for a much more effective counter-attacking system that stunned Manuel Pellegrini and his players.

Chelsea dominated, carving out the better chances and finished the game worthy winners.

Ivanovic was a big part of that success.

His frame may be deceiving, but he is a fine athlete. Ivanovic may not carry the slight appearance of his colleagues Ashley Cole and Cesar Azpilicueta, yet beyond his brutal appearance is a player with the ability to work his flank with all the guile expected of a full-back in the modern game.

Jon Super/Associated Press

Justification in Mourinho's faith that he could play a significant role on the counter came when he fired home the only goal of the game at the Etihad—a sweetly struck shot that flew beyond Joe Hart in goal.

The Blues gained significant ground in the title race on the back of that win and in the process, Ivanovic outlined the threat he can be further forward. His overlapping run to open the scores against West Brom this week reinforced that, demonstrating his ability to read the game and anticipate opportunities.

It's no wonder the Daily Mail has linked Paris Saint-Germain with a move for Ivanovic—the only surprise being that others aren't chasing him. After all, the Serbian may not come with a high profile, although what he offers a team is something much more vital.

Let's not forget, Ivanovic is a defender by trade. All this talk of his attacking capabilities takes the focus away from what he is paid to do at Stamford Bridge—and that's help stop goals from going in at the home end.

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11:  Gareth McAuley of West Brom and Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea at The Hawthorns on February 11, 2014 in West Bromw
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It's something he does well.

Ivanovic was initially a centre-back when Chelsea signed him from Lokomotiv Moscow in January 2008. Then 23 years old, he had the look of an eastern European David Luiz about him—good in possession, quick, with an ability to beat his man.

Having failed to make an impression in his first six months, he soon adapted and what Chelsea have now is one of the most effective players in Europe in his position.

With Mourinho's eagerness for Chelsea's attacking players to press defences and squeeze the space of their opponents, it's important the likes of Ivanovic push a higher line themselves to exploit the space that becomes vacated.

He's doing just that, but as his recent goal tally shows, Chelsea are getting a little more than they may have bargained for, too.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes