It’s no secret that Jose Mourinho has been desperate to add a deep central midfielder to his squad, someone in the defensive mould to sit at the base of a midfield three. As good as Michael Carrick is, chances are this is his last season before retirement.
Manchester United have no other established star who can sit deep, pass the ball and protect the defence. Signing this type of player is crucial to Mourinho’s system.
First of all, it will allow Paul Pogba off the reigns so he can have more freedom to affect the game in the final third. Secondly, Ander Herrera’s skillset is best utilised in pressing higher up the pitch and winning the ball back in dangerous areas, rather than deeper.
It is pivotal United acquire this type of player, one able of developing into a mainstay in the side and they look to have got their man in Matic.
What does Matic do?
The Serbian is this type of player Mourinho has been looking for down to a tee.
Matic is not the midfielder destroyer many believe him to be, rather a deep lying playmaker, who is tidy with the ball at his feet, but one that can also read play to prevent and stop opposition attacks.
For instance, Matic’s 88% passing accuracy was second only to N’Golo Kante of Chelsea players that made more 10 or more Premier League appearances, plus the Serb created 27 chances and assisted seven goals. He also made 55 interceptions and 49 clearances, as well as 37 tackles.
Don’t expect him to be chasing the ball around aiming to win it back as soon as possible high up the pitch, that’s what Herrera does and it’s not the what Mourinho was after for this role.
Whilst Matic is a solid passer of the ball, he’s not the creative spark United’s midfield was crying out for and he doesn’t have the same vision as some of the game’s other deep-lying playmakers.
However, it is likely Matic will largely be used more as a defensive-minded platform to allow the other creative talents in the United team to flourish, such are Mourinho’s structured and rigid set-ups. This lack of creativity isn’t necessarily a problem, therefore. That responsibility will fall on Paul Pogba.
Is he a good enough signing?
But is he good enough to fulfil this role and help United become Premier League champions and a European force once again?
The obvious answer would be yes. He has been a mainstay in the last two Chelsea squads to have won the Premier League title and has great experience within the Premier League. Having won a title under Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, moreover, Mourinho knows exactly what he’s getting in Matic.
However, there has certainly been a feeling in the Chelsea camp that his influence is waning and he can certainly be improved upon, hence the signing of Tiemoue Bakayoko.
It’s fair to say, furthermore, that in Matic’s role, you get better with age, so long as you have the intelligence to do so, which Matic does. The number six isn’t required to do a high amount of running and relies on his reading of the game instead to snuff out the danger.
Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso, and Michael Carrick himself all arguably got better as they got older, and whilst Matic isn’t currently and will never be at the level of these legendary players, it’s not as if age will become a factor too soon. The only concern is that United still haven’t replaced Carrick in the long-term.
Safe, steady & unspectacular
There were other options Mourinho could have got, and perhaps even wanted. His admiration for Tottenham Hotspur’s Eric Dier, who performs the role of a number six superbly, was no secret, but it was clear he would be unattainable.
There were more spectacular options in Julian Weigl and possibly even Marco Verratti who Mourinho could have targeted, though he may have wanted someone who was easier to sign and has also been there and done it all in the Premier League. As good as someone like Weigl is, there are no guarantees he would be able to transfer that quality to the Premier League.
Matic, therefore, is a safe and steady option. Not necessarily first choice, but one that could prove crucial in helping United get back to the top. He’s not spectacular himself, but he’s the base that allows other players to unleash their spectacular.
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