When Manchester United bought Nemanja Matic from Chelsea for a fee of approximately £40 million in the summer of 2017, it was thought that he could be the signing that would see United kick on and potentially challenge for the title.
When it was made known that United were prepared to pay Chelsea’s £40 million asking price, some fans and sections of the media criticised the club, this was because they believed it was too much money for a player of Matic‘s age (28 years old). People were also aware that Chelsea were about to use that cash to buy Tiemoue Bakayoko, a player believed to be a younger, more energetic, a better version of Matic.
After settling in well at Old Trafford with some positive and influential performances in the first couple of months of the 2017/18 Premier League campaign, many were starting to believe that Matic was the missing piece of the jigsaw in United’s midfield. What we were seeing was with Matic playing an anchor role in the middle of the park, players like Paul Pogba in particular were being given more freedom to get forward and become a more creative player for the Reds. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s new signing Bakayoko was struggling to adapt to the English game and it was clear United had definitely got the best deal out of the two clubs.
The Serbian midfielder brought strength to the spine of the team and with his ability to read the game he was able to break down a lot of the opposition’s attacks and get the team moving on the front foot. Mourinho has signed Matic twice now. This is no coincidence because as a player he embodies Mourinho’s philosophy, he is basically the Portuguese manager on the pitch and this is why he has been exempt of the usual player criticism. Instead Mourinho has made a point of defending his nearest ally and singling him out for high praise in the media. Some of the things the United manager has said about him are:
“Many, many times Matic was an island of personality and desire and control, surrounded by a lack of personality, class and desire.”
In my opinion Mourinho’s staunched defence of Matic and the blind faith he has in him has hampered the progression of this team for quite some time now and certainly since the beginning of this season. Having watched all of United’s games this season, Matic looks a yard slower than he ever has. Whether this is due to a lack of fitness or lack of form and confidence, who knows? He always seems to want take too many touches in the build up of any United attacks and as a result of this, he is frequently getting dispossessed in dangerous areas of the pitch.
Another player that the United manager had been fiercely loyal to until recently was Romelu Lukaku. But like Matic he has also endured a tough start to the season and of late has been dropped from the team. This is something that Mourinho should be starting to consider with regards to the Serbian midfielder, as he’s become an inconvenience to the team. Many supporters are of the belief that Matic’s role in the team is not required in the majority of United games, especially at home and the time has now come to play a more forward thinking player in the middle of the park certainly when playing at Old Trafford. Replacing Matic with players like Ander Herrera, Fred or Andreas Pereira could help The Reds be a more creative team in games they should be dominating.
So far this season United have managed to create 533 chances. This is just over one hundred less than league leaders Manchester City (636). When it comes to shots, they are 7th on the list with 157, a long way behind City, who have mustered 246 in all of their games so far this season. When it comes to passes United have completed 6,014, that’s least of the “big six” of the Premier League and alarmingly 2,692 less than Chelsea who top that list.
The disappointing stats are there for all to see and although Matic is not the only one to blame for those numbers he’s also not going to boost them anytime soon. United need to become a more creative force, with forward thinking, energetic midfielders if they are to be successful in the near future.