Nemanja Matic: The best holding midfielder in Europe?
Nemanja ‘Auto’ Matic, is the machine in the middle of the park at Chelsea. The powerful Serb has lit up the Premier League with his defensive prowess and performances since his arrival from Benfica in the January transfer window of 2014. Jose Mourinho identified him as the key to anchor for his Chelsea midfield and immediately re-signed the man for £21m after letting him go for £3m three years earlier.
This move thought by some as bad business by Mourinho turned out to be a masterstroke and one of the most crucial signings of his second stint with the London club.
Matic immediately slotted into midfield and quickly became an integral part of the Blues midfield engine room as he went about his work breaking down opponent attacks with his tough tackling and.no nonsense approach.
When asked about Matic Jose Mourinho said, "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," he added.
And a giant indeed, standing at 6 foot 3, it’s no wonder Matic draws such comparisons. A powerhouse in the centre of the pitch, Matic is tough and precise in the tackle and good with the ball at his feet, he picks out passes crisply and occasionally pops up with an odd goal now and then. The man returned a much improved and better player after his stint with Benfica and has cemented his place in the starting lineup at Chelsea.
Matic is probably the only player who can stop Yaya Toure and go toe to toe with the Ivorian as he so excellently demonstrated in his encounters with the City midfielder.
He is the conduit that links the Chelsea defence and attack and is the glue that holds the entire team together. His standards are so high that you can hear a moan from the stands of Stamford Bridge if he ever gets tackled or his pass intercepted.
Now the numbers.
Compared to his fellow team mates, Matic has the same pass completion accuracy as that of Cesc Fabregas who receives the ball much more than any other player at Chelsea.
He also comes in second in terms of number of successful passes out of those attempted, beating Oscar and Hazard. Matic is the best tackler in the premier league making 58 tackles with George Boyd coming in second with 55. He scores the highest in terms of tackles won and interceptions compared to his Chelsea team mates.
Although Eden Hazard is the best in the Premier League or for that matter in all of Europe’s top 5 leagues when it comes to dribbles or take-ons per game, Nemanja Matic comes in second as compared to his Chelsea compatriots with 32 successful dribbles out of those attempted, showing that going forward he is equally adept as well.
Matic is widely regarded the best defensive midfielder in the premier league.
But is he the best in Europe? The stats seem in line with this.
I’ve compared Matic alongside some of Europe's best defensive midfielders on a 90 minute basis but do keep in mind he has played around 400 minutes more than the next highest Sergio Busquets and much more than the others mentioned on this list, hence his per game ratios would come down considerably.
Inspite of this Matic has one of the highest tackles won ratios at 2.76, only marginally behind Serio Busquets with 3.04 tackles a game. He is also marginally behind Roma stalwart De Rossi with 2.33 interceptions per game while the Roman has a score of 2.88 a game. He is swift at removing danger from any situation as the leader of clearances made per game at 2.95 with De Rossi a close second at 2.79. But De Rossi has played 860 minutes lesser than Matic – that's almost more than 8 games, hence the higher numbers for the Roma man, while every other player barely averages 1 per game.
He wins 61% of his aerial duels and 47.5% of all duels contested. His passing stats, maybe on the slightly lower side compared to the rest, but not by much with Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets dominating successful passes and pass completion respectively. Matic comes in at 87% pass completion accuracy while the rest average about 90% this is again probably because of more games and the way football is played in the premier league as compared to Europe’s other leagues being faster and more direct. He also is less prone to defensive errors as compared to De Rossi and Busquets.
When it comes to the attacking side of his game, Matic leads by a mile in successful dribbles or take-ons per game at 1.52, more than double that of nearest Xabi Alonso at 0.69.
While in assists and Key passes he comes a close 3rd behind pass masters Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso.
Also crucially though, Matic is still only 26 while the rest of these players are at or past their peak. So with time on his side there is still room for improvement (although it's just a fine margin) for Matic, but he’s already up there with the big boys. He might not yet be outrightly the best defensive midfielder in Europe, but he’s certainly up there with the lot.
Ask him and he’ll tell you, “I want to score more goals.”
That’s Nemanja Matic for you.