Nemanja Matić: The Dark Knight of Mourinho’s Chelsea

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Nemanja Matic in action for Chelsea during their 2-1 victory over QPR on Saturday

Chelsea have recorded an unbeaten start to the 2014-15 campaign. After 10 games, they are perched at the top of Premier League table with a 4 point lead over second placed Southampton. Unbeaten, with 7 points from 3 games, they are also expected to enter the last-16 of UEFA Champions League as group leaders. They have dominated the proceeding to such an effect, that most pundits and bookmakers fancy them to end up comfortably as Premier League Champions even at such early stages of the season.

While the new signings, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa along with the fan favorites Eden Hazard and Didier Drogba have notched up the bulk of headlines and received endless plaudits with their exuberant displays day-in and day-out, Nemanja Matić has quietly installed himself as a vital cog in the Chelsea midfield engine room establishing himself as one of the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League as well as the world football scenario.

Nemanja Matić first signed for Chelsea in 2009 as a 20-year-old from MFK Košice for a fee of around £1.5 million on a four-year contract. After making just 2 appearances for Chelsea along with a loan stint at Vitesse, he was transferred to Portuguese club Benfica along with €25 million (£21M) in a swap deal for Brazilian centre back David Luiz. It was here at Benfica, under manager Jorge Jesus, Matić reinvented himself from a playmaker into a defensive midfielder.

Matić established himself as an important first XI player throughout the 2012–13 Primeira Liga campaign as Benfica looked to claim the club’s first league championship since 2010. He also ended up as a Europa League runner-up with Benfica losing the final 2-1 against his former club Chelsea.

Matic’ during his days at Benfica, battles in midfiled with Chelsea’s Ramires

In January 2014, Matić rejoined Chelsea in move which surprised most of the fans and pundits, particularly due to £21 million fee that Chelsea paid to Benfica for his services. He was quick to dispel all the doubts and concerns as he was adjudged the man of the match for his performance against Manchester City as Chelsea ended City’s unbeaten run at the City of Manchester Stadium with a 1–0 win in his first start for Chelsea.
He was, by some distance, the most physically imposing midfielder on the show, totally nullifying the threat posed by Yaya Toure, who himself was enjoying a fantastic season for City. He was telescopically quick to the ball, able to pass short and long, aggressive but, above all, always in control. The Serbian sitting just in front of the back four, acting as a screen for the defense, went on to make 19 appearances for Chelsea that season, making the deep midfield position his own as Chelsea ended up as the best defensive side of Premier League conceding only 27 goals in 38 PL games.

Matić has enjoyed an equally impressive start in the 2014-15 season playing every minute of Premier League football, with only Burnley’s Scott Arfield being the other midfielder to do so. In 12 appearances (EPL+UCL) he has scored twice, including the only goal against Sporting FC in 1-0 away win and notched one assist, while completing 88% of his passes on average, of which 65% interestingly go forward, showcasing his positive bent of mind while in possession.

His newly forged midfield partnership with Cesc Fabregas has been a key factor in Chelsea’s unbeaten start. Mourinho’s job of delivering trophies on the back of eye-catching, attacking football that owner Abramovich craves for, would not have been possible without Matić’s defensive diligence. There had been question marks in August as to how the pair work together, as Matić, along with Fabregas, was tasked with going and affecting the game higher up the pitch and Mourinho’s side were, on occasion, left bare.
Mourinho spotted that quickly and tweaked his tactics.

Matić was asked to sit deep and patrol the entire width of pitch as Fabregas, Ivanovic and Hazard took turns to foray forward and create wave after wave of attack. Upon losing possession, he displays supreme positional awareness to break up play and snuff out opposition attacks, allowing others to quickly track back in time. Nemanja Matić performs this role so effectively that Jose Mourinho needn’t worry about teams travelling to west London in pursuit of catching the Blues cold. He has completed more tackles in the Premier League than any other Chelsea player this season, averaging 3.1 per game. In the meanwhile, his partner in crime, Cesc Fabregas, is leading the Premier League charts after grabbing 9 assists in 10 games. He has created 31 chances till now, which in itself, is a staggering statistic.

Matic’s heat map in midfield for Chelsea against Queens Park Rangers via Match Zone

A lot of pundits have taken note of Matić’s performances lately, with former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness even suggesting that he is better than retired Chelsea defensive midfielder Claude Makelele.
Souness lists Matic’s hold-up play, sense of danger and ‘constant threat’ among the reasons why the 26-year-old is greater than the man who inspired the position to be dubbed the ‘Makelele Role’.

‘Maybe only when you play with him do you appreciate how good he is. He’s exactly what Arsenal needed, maybe what Liverpool needed, what (Manchester) United needed,’ Souness wrote in his Sunday Times column.

The presence of dominating and hard tackling midfielders like Roy Keane, Patrick Viera, Claude Makelele, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets etc. in their respective sides suggests that every title-winning side needs one and Chelsea are no different. For them to end the season as Premier League and possibly Champions League winners, they have to hope that Matić’s maintains his current form and stays injury free.

With the current form, Chelsea can emulate the success they enjoyed in Mourinho’s first term with the club.

He is the hero Chelsea deserves as well as needs right now. He is their silent guardian, and watchful protector.

He is, in essence, Chelsea’s Dark Knight!

Nemanja Matic wears the PUMA evoPOWER 1 to boss the Chelsea midfield. Choose your own accessories at tossnplay.com – India’s Dedicated Online Sports Store and rule the pitch like the Chelsea Star. 

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