Nemanja Matic: Missing piece of the Manchester United jigsaw?
Much has been said about Nemanja Matic after his dream debut for Manchester United in their 4-0 win against West Ham at Old Trafford on Sunday. Questions have been asked about why Chelsea decided to sell the Serbian midfielder to their direct title rivals and if you were watching the game on Sunday, you were perhaps as perplexed. I would like to delve into a much debated and discussed topic already, whether Nemanja Matic is the missing piece of the United jigsaw.
Man of the Match on the night against West Ham
The £40 million man slotted in effortlessly alongside Paul Pogba and made the Red Devils tick on Sunday against West Ham. He was the heartbeat of the team and was central to everything good United did. Matic not only made more number of passes (69) than anyone else on the pitch but he also covered the most distance (11.41 kms). His tackle high up the pitch was vital to United's first goal.
The Serbian's contributions were recognised as he won the Man of the Match award by a big margin (74% on Twitter). The scorer of two of the four United goals, Romelu Lukaku, would have thought his goals would be enough for him to bag the prize but such was the dominance of Matic that he was the clear front runner. Even Jose Mourinho was all praises for a player who was integral to his Chelsea's title run in 2014-15 as he said, "I thought he was a player with special qualities and, since I left, I always thought he could be a perfect player for us".
A midfield general
Standing tall at 6'4'', Matic brings with him the steel and strength that every aspiring title contender craves to have in their team. He is the type of midfielder United have lacked ever since Roy Keane's departure in 2005. Although the Red Devils were hugely successful under Sir Alex Ferguson despite this apparent void in their midfield, they always lacked a midfield general. Back in 2007, United had signed Owen Hargreaves who had made a huge reputation as a defensive midfielder for himself with Bayern Munich. However, his injuries restricted Hargreaves to a mere 39 appearances for United.
Fortunately, United had a much younger Michael Carrick in those days whose intelligence on the pitch coupled with his calmness on the ball was integral to United's success. Now that Carrick is perhaps nearing his retirement, United desperately needed a defensive midfielder.
While Fellaini ticks the boxes in terms of the physical attributes required to excel as a 'number six' in England, he likes to play in a slightly advanced role. Ander Herrera was absolutely magnificent last season and rightly won the Manchester United's Player of the Year Award for his tenacious performances in the middle of the park. But he possesses neither the strength nor the physical stature that Matic has.
Matic will unshackle Pogba and co.
Nemanja Matic was also very effective with the ball at his feet as he pushed the United's defensive line forward. He also showed flashes of trickery with the ball which suggests that Matic is more than just a 'destroyer' and will be vital to the new counter-attacking strategy that Mourinho will surely adapt this season. However, more importantly, Matic's arrival bodes well for Paul Pogba who will have much more license to venture forward.
This can potentially bring out the best in the French superstar who also had similar freedom at Juventus, a role in which he excelled thoroughly. Matic will also provide protection to United's centre backs thus freeing up the full backs to join up in the attacks.
Real tests lie ahead
Yes, we are just one match into the new season and it is still too early to comment on whether Matic will be successful at United or not. Without meaning any disrespect towards West Ham United, it is safe to say that they were hardly a match to United on Sunday as they missed their key player Manuel Lanzini.
Manchester United will face much tougher opponents than West Ham in the coming games and we should not get carried away with one good performance against the Hammers. I am of the opinion that we should wait until Matic has played against the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham before we can judge the Serbian's importance to Manchester United's cause.
We should not jump to conclusions about Matic just as yet because the real tests lie ahead, for instance on the 14th October as United travel to Liverpool. How Matic copes with a more crafty bunch of midfielders like Wijnaldum, Lallana, Firmino and Coutinho (if he does end up staying that is) will help us arrive at a more conclusive answer.
However, having said the above, the signs are good for Matic and he will be buoyed by the manager's as well as the fans' backing. Should the 29-year old Serbian continue to perform consistently, he may be the missing piece of the United jigsaw. He will be absolutely crucial to the title ambitions that the Red Devils are expected to harbour this season. By all means, Manchester United may just have found the solution to their recent struggles. Well, come December we will at least find out if they have.