Since his appointment at Old Trafford in the summer of 2016, Jose Mourinho instructed his new club to pursue two of his former charges at Chelsea.
The Portuguese boss always prioritises identifying players whom he can rely upon, who will be loyal to him and will act selflessly both on and off the pitch. Nemanja Matic and Willian were swiftly identified by the boss, who believed both could feasibly be brought to Manchester United.
Whilst efforts for the Brazilian forward were knocked back by the hierarchy at Stamford Bridge, a deal for Matic was struck in the summer.
The Serbian midfielder’s arrival at Old Trafford was heralded as a coup for the Red Devils, as they had fought off long-standing interest from Italian champions Juventus in the midfielder’s signature.
A Mourinho player
One day after his switch to Manchester, the holding midfielder celebrated his 29th birthday, a fact which led to some scepticism surrounding his age with some pundits wondering if it prohibited any long-term impact at Old Trafford.
However, such was the importance placed upon his place within Mourinho’s system and the idea he could help liberate Paul Pogba in central midfield, a £40 million fee was largely viewed as reasonable in such a bloated market.
Matic is viewed as a steady, reliable performer and Mourinho has identified similar qualities in emerging midfielder Scott McTominay. Players who can keep things simple in midfield, playing safe passes when a more progressive one is not available, possessing tactical discipline and the ability to win the ball in turnovers.
Both are tall and offer a physical presence in midfield and Mourinho’s decision to play both in a midfield three – along with Paul Pogba – could be with a view to McTominay learning directly from the former Chelsea midfielder.
Dispelling the myth
The Serbian has shown throughout his stint in England that his concentration levels and tactical discipline are exemplary, while he offers the added bonus of providing an aerial presence at both ends of the pitch.
His stunning winner at Crystal Palace showed his awareness at correct timing to risk more ambitious efforts from range.
Pogba is widely regarded as Manchester United’s best player and Matic provides the base at midfield to provide a platform for the Frenchman and other attacking stars to push further forward.
His performances in the recent defeats at Tottenham and Newcastle were below par but these were in the context of a wider malaise within the team and his subsequent showings have dispelled any doubt regarding a long-term slump.
The sole criticism of Matic during his spell in West London was that his excellence and energy levels tailed off in the second half of the campaign too frequently.
Yet he has already racked up 38 appearances this season, including starting each Premier League match to date, and has yet to show any signs of fatigue. His reliance has been heightened by injuries to Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera, alongside absences for Pogba.
It seems clear that Manchester United must bolster their midfield options this summer, especially in light of Fellaini’s contract expiring but Matic’s place in the side and his protection of an often-fragile backline do not appear to be in any doubt.
What do you think? Has Nemanja Matic justified his price tag at Manchester United?