Manchester United officially announced the signing of Nemanja Matic. This brought a huge relief to the Old Trafford fans with social media blowing up with the news. Manchester United were in need of a holding midfielder and Matic fits the bill. Matic is the perfect Mourinho player alongside Lampard, Terry, Zanetti, Cambiasso and the likes. Nemanja Matic to ManUtd could just turn out to be Mourinho’s trump card.
Chelsea signed Makelele in 2003 for £16.3 million which at the time was deemed too expensive for a 30 year old. But Chelsea roped in Jose Mourinho in 2004 and this turned out to be a masterstroke by owner Roman Abramovich. Jose deployed a perfect system and created an absolute iron clad midfield with Makelele and Lampard pairing. At the time, Makelele’s job was to break up play, stop the opposition and boss midfield. He did this better than most players in world football. Chelsea’s prime focus, and Mourinho’s in particular, was to win trophies; and so, the style was defensively oriented. Makelele was used primarily as a wall.
Fast forward to 2013, when Chelsea resigned Jose Mourinho, he referred to the Chelsea team as a small pony in a horse race. He knew at the time what was needed at Chelsea: a definite role for a holding midfielder who could be a wall in front of the back four. Mourinho addressed the issue by assigning Nemanja Matic the job of being rock solid. This turned out to be perfect for Chelsea as they went on to win the Premier League in 2014/15. While Eden Hazard, Costa and Fabregas stole the limelight that season, Matic was the unsung hero, a pivot in the middle for the Blues. Chelsea lost just 3 games that season.
Matic’s role, however, was much more complicated in comparison to Makelele’s role. Makelele could focus solely on defensive duties due to the availability of a holding partner and a defensive style of play. Matic also had to build up play from the back sometimes because Chelsea were playing a more flamboyant football in the 2014/15 season. This change of style was due to the owner Abramovich’s desire. Abramovich wants to not just bring in trophies but wants Chelsea have an image of a club playing beautiful football. In addition to protecting the defence and breaking down play, Matic had to build it up when the right back and left back had advanced.
If we look at Matic’s Premier League winning seasons at Chelsea, they show two different pictures. He was vastly superior and dominating under Jose Mourinho than he was under Antonio Conte. This is down due to the fact that Matic played a higher role in the Conte system ending up with 7 assists, a career record for him. Under Mourinho, he primarily shielded the back four focusing on defensive duties more.
Defensively, Matic had 3.6 tackles per game in the 2014/15 season as compared with 1.5 last season. Interceptions per game were far better at 2 under Jose Mourinho than last season at 1.4. Clearances per game stood at a superior 3.3 as comapred with 1.3 under Conte. The final whoscored defensive ratings stood at 7.50 in 2014/15, better than last season’s score of 7.01. In attack, Matic bagged 7 assists which is a career high.
The defensive numbers from Premier League‘s website give us a big revelation as seen below.
The holding midfield remains one of the most important positions in Jose Mourinho’s system. Every club he managed had this pivot in the middle, bossing the area, breaking up opposition or controlling the ball. Whether it is Costinha at Porto, Makelele at Chelsea during his first spell, Cambiasso at Inter Milan, Diarra or Alonso at Real Madrid or Matic at Chelsea during his second spell, this position has been of prime importance. Herrera tried to fulfil this duty partially last season at Manchester United but was more focused on ball distribution. With Matic to ManUtd done, Jose Mourinho has a man who specialises in this role.
Matic was eager to sign for Manchester United himself and it is reported that the Serbian pushed through for a deal in order to join his former boss. His signing will also ease the burden on Pogba who will be more able to express himself on the field.
But Matic is 29 years old and this seems like a short term replacement for Michael Carrick. Eric Dier and Fabinho were United’s first choice in midfield. Both are 23 years old and would have been the perfect long term replacement for United. But the lack of success in signing younger midfielders resulted in Matic to ManUtd deal. While this could work wonder and even win United the Premier League title, it is just a short term fix, similar to the Van Persie deal in 2012. For the longer run, United need someone younger, quicker and stronger.
Manchester United fans can celebrate for now as this is a good signing. It has fixed their midfield woes. Chelsea fans, however, are furious over the deal. Social media outbursts are seen suggesting that the deal has left Chelsea with less options and selling to a direct rival should be avoided.