When Jose Mourinho re-signed Nemanja Matic from Benfica in the January of this year, it was acknowledged as an admission of failure by Chelsea. They had gone for a player whom they had sold three years ago, an unimportant makeweight in the deal for the far more glamorous David Luiz.
Often accused of spending on the wrong players, 11 months later, Chelsea have been vindicated in their choice of the Serbian. A towering presence in midfield, he has been indispensable for Mourinho – playing each minute of 14 out of 15 premier league games this season. Indeed, the only game he missed resulted in Chelsea’s first loss in all competitions this season – the 2-1 loss away to Newcastle over the weekend.
If Diego Costa has been banging in the goals and Fabregas creating them, its only because they have had the freedom to do so without the added pressure of chasing games. Played as a holding midfielder in front of the back four, Matic acts as an effective shield capable of shutting out wave after wave of opposition attacks with his intelligent reading of play. Despite being one of the best centrebacks of his generation, at 34 John Terry isn’t getting any younger and needs all the protection he can get. Matic provides that, giving a strong foundation for the Chelsea front line to push forward and score.
Matic has made 840 successful passes with an 89% completion rate, won 37 tackles, made 29 interceptions and made 44 clearances. The last three totals are the highest out of the rest of Chelsea’s regular midfield five of Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Willian and Oscar. (Stats from Squawka.com)
One can understand why Mourinho trusts Matic so much, given that defensive solidity has been the trademark of both his spells at Chelsea. But Matic is far more than a one dimensional player. His dynamism, pace and mobility lead to him being able to push the ball forward and link up play effectively. He’s definitely a cut above John Obi Mikel, his replacement for the Newcastle game – Mikel was slower, sloppier, and this resulted in Fabregas getting squeezed out and blunted Chelsea’s attacks.
Seen as the new Claude Makelele, Matic has had praise heaped upon him by Mourinho, fans and football pundits alike. Even Chelsea’s league rivals grudgingly acknowledge the influence Matic’s fine performances have had on Chelsea’s results – the Blues currently sit 3 points clear at the summit of the English Premier League. Indeed, many have pointed out that Matic is exactly the kind of player Arsenal and Man United need at the moment to get over their defensive frailties.
He may have won Portuguese Primeira Liga Player of the Year award in 2013 and been nominated for the FIFA Puskas Goal of the year award in the same year, but far greater glory awaits Matic if he continues this fine run of form for the Blues.
Vinayak Mishra is the guest writer of this article.