ManUMatic 101: Which Matic will show up when the season begins?
Jose Mourinho has a weird style craving for solidity and balance. For most of his managerial career, he has always loved a specialist, unfussy and efficient bulwark in front of his defence. While most of the narrative of the new signing will centre around relieving Paul Pogba of some defensive duties and providing a platform for the Frenchman to flourish, Nemanja Matic does have more strings to his bow.
But the big question on Manchester United fans’ minds right now would be, ‘which Matic will show up in Red?’ Is it the Serbian who powered Chelsea to the title under Jose Mourinho, or the wastrel in possession who tanked alongside his team on their title defence? Mourinho went from gushing adulation to unbridled censure of the 29-year old before they parted ways.
Mourinho gave high praise on Matic’s ability and influence in the Serbian’s first season at Chelsea during his second spell.
“It is difficult [for Matic] to lose the ball. But at the same time he is not the kind of guy to play any square passes. He can do so and keep possession, but he can see the movement forward, look at the passing into space.
“He is very clean. He recovers a lot of balls in a clean way, he doesn’t make fouls in dangerous positions.
“I like him a lot because of his stability. He is a very stable player for someone who is still so young, only 25.”
The Portuguese coach further commended the midfielder after Chelsea’s victory over Liverpool six months later.
“He is the best player. He was signed in the most difficult market. Which is for the players who are coming in mid-season, so the last half of the season was for him to improve, not adaptation, as he was a Chelsea player before, but to improve.
“At this moment he is a giant, not for his size, but for the way he plays. The man is a giant.”
Things then went awry after the London-based side were consistently putting in poor results and they came to a head when Jose Mourinho substituted Nemaja Matic 27 minutes after coming on in the second half in October 2015.
Mourinho pulled no punches in his assessment of the situation when he was interviewed after the match, “I do not do that to anyone in football and in life. Some of [the players] are in a difficult moment, Matic is one of them. He is not playing well. He is not the sharpest. He is not making good decisions with the ball.”
Matic has since kicked on from the debacle as evidenced by his good showing last season which earned him the £40 million move to Old Trafford. He was part of Antonio Conte’s title-winning side alongside PFA player of the year, Ngolo Kante. It could be argued that Matic wasn’t at his beastly best last season compared to his truly magnificent 2014/2015 season as his tackles per game and interception per game dropped off but the midfielder posted better figures in assists with his seven assists dwarfing a lone assist in his 2014/2015 season.
Matic does improve United’s midfield options and is widely considered a better fit into the team’s midfield compared to Maroaune Fellaini. He might not be the most exciting signing but United faithful will hope he is nothing short of efficient.