Jose Mourinho welcomes a familiar face to Old Trafford as he prepares his team for a run at the Premier League title this season.
However, is Nemanja Matic really the right man for the job? Things didn’t end well between the pair during Mourinho’s second stint at Chelsea and Matic was one of the players publicly singled out by his manager for unsatisfactory performances.
In signing Matic again, though, Mourinho has made a pragmatic choice. He has the first-hand knowledge of how a player like Matic can help a team like United. RealSport explain five reasons why the Serbian is the man for the job.
An experienced winner
Of United’s regular starters, only David de Gea, Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and club captain Michael Carrick have faced a Premier League title run-in and triumphed.
Paul Pogba might have won the Serie A, but Juventus’ extended dominance mitigates the challenge a little. He did, however, appear in a Champions League final, though was on the losing end of a 3-1 defeat to Barcelona.
Should Manchester United find themselves still in the running for the title at the tail-end of the season, United will go into matches needing a win to bounce back, keep up or extend their lead. Matic’s know-how in various scenarios will be vital to keeping the team focused.
|Nemanja Matic||Marouane Fellaini||Ander Herrera||Michael Carrick|
|Total forward passes||38.05||37.17||45.44||50.83|
|Aerial duels won||1.27||5.14||0.95||0.56|
Last season, Mourinho often utilised Marouane Fellaini to run around like a battering ram and win aerial duels. The Belgian is effective in his own unique way, but this made United somewhat predictable.
Whilst Matic is not as effective as the Belgian in the air, he does have the technical skill and experience of playing in an advanced position. This will be useful in games where instead of brute force, a bit more guile is required.
At 36-years-old, club captain Michael Carrick is not expected to play every game. Matic can step in to ably fill this role as well, using his positional ability and reading of the game to protect the back line, intercept and restart attacks. He is not as elegant as the veteran midfielder but remains a legitimate option.
If Herrera is sidelined, Matic would be expected to combine both his offensive and defensive skills and link defence and attack, just like the Spaniard. His capacity to provide assists will be welcome to a team that only scored 54 league goals last season.
Last season, Paul Pogba had to deal with the unwanted attention of being Manchester United’s £89 million star buy. Although he showed glimpses of his mercurial talent, it was not enough as the club slumped to a sixth place finish.
The young Frenchman spent far too many games scrapping for the ball in midfield. In games where he drifted further forward, his midfield partners would be isolated defensively. The good news is that Pogba has shown more effort in this regard, getting stuck in and dominating the ball in midfield.
There is no doubt that Pogba is the type of player that you build a team around. Therefore, in whatever position or tactical configuration, Matic is expected to be the foil that allows Pogba the freedom to be at his magical best.
Such is the sheer weight of expectation on Pogba that Matic’s arrival could be justified by this reason alone.
A trusted lieutenant
Whatever their past discord, Mourinho has not lost sight of that fact that Matic was a key member of two title-winning teams and even kept Cesc Fabregas out of Chelsea’s championship team last season.
On the field, Matic can be the player that keeps things organised. In the dressing room, he can be trusted to know what the manager wants and communicate it to the other players.
Boost for younger players
At 29-years-old, Matic is seen as a short-term buy to drive United to Premier League success. He would not get in the way of the long-term development of players like Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe, players who have been tried in midfield positions. They stand to gain the most from Matic’s experience.
Fans and pundits may be clamouring for more fashionable players like Monaco’s Fabinho or PSG’s Marco Verratti but unless they are replacing another senior player, they would get in the way of United’s youngsters. They would also not have the experience that is badly needed at Old Trafford.
Not value for money?
Critics say that Matic is not value for money and there are faster, better and younger players that could be bought instead of a Chelsea cast-off.
However, the TV money coming into the Premier League means that hardly any incoming first-team transfer for the top six teams can be considered value for money, particularly between title rivals.
Matic may be an unglamorous transfer, but he might just be exactly what Manchester United need. They have a lot of young players that can play together for the next few years.
However, they need to replace all the experience they’ve lost since their last league title and Matic is a step in the right direction.
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