Just like three-and-a-half years ago, Matic is about to bring balance to a Mourinho side and bring big-game pedigree, this time to United’s midfield. Matic could be decisive in the showpiece matches when United field a midfield triumvirate and United supporters will hope for performances similar to that Monday masterclass at City in 2014. Matic was indomitable and Chelsea’s 1-0 victory was an inaccurate reflection of their dominance.

Seven years younger than Michael Carrick and more accustomed to a defensive-minded role than Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera, Matic’s expected arrival should allow those two – and particularly Paul Pogba – to enhance a wasteful United attack.

 

At United’s peak last season Mourinho alternated between two team sheets depending on the strength of the opposition. The 4-3-3 formation, adopted in the autumn before a return in the spring, coincided with United’s most momentous and secure spells of football. The 4-2-3-1 was sporadically spectacular (Leicester and Watford at home) while seldom convincing.

The departures of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger deprived United of a defined defensive midfielder and no midfielder has made more tackles and interceptions in the Premier League since Matic returned to England, a period which has included the hyperactive Herrera, the emergence of N’Golo Kante and Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham terriers.

Matic excels at shielding his back four and is familiar with starting as the lone holder or as one of a pair of holders since his Benfica days. Key to United’s Europa League final victory was Mourinho’s decision to ‘invert the pyramid’, siding Pogba and Herrera at the base with Fellaini ahead of them, a tactic which forced Ajax to play long against a United that was ‘taller and dominant in that area’. You can see why Matic was prioritised.

 

Fellaini was the ideal selection since, as Ryan Giggs explained, ‘he does exactly what you say’. The Belgian was still an auxiliary option and the incentive in signing Matic is two attacking midfielders, rather than one, could be more proficient with a seasoned expert like the Serb holding the fort.

One reason Mourinho opted for a bespoke formation was United were hampered by Eric Bailly’s absence. “With your feet, we’re for sure not playing out of the back!” he bluntly informed Chris Smalling. Victor Lindelof, another footballing defender, could prompt United to play out from their own third and Matic is an alternative, so opponents cannot prey on the one outlet like Liverpool did with Carrick. Van Gaal and Mourinho were reliant on Carrick and next season United could have three assured ball-players at the base of their spine. Phil Jones has also begun to display more finesse with his passing.

 

Matic’s role as the team’s ‘pivot’, spraying passes left, right and centre, might be the most important if United are to upgrade from pragmatism. “The man is a giant,” Mourinho beamed after Chelsea beat Liverpool in November 2014. ‘Monster’ Matic stands at 6ft 4ins and his cumbersome frame did not prevent him from providing an attacking threat while supposedly restricted to the middle third under Antonio Conte. Matic created 27 chances during Chelsea’s Premier League games last season and tallied seven assists. That is one more than Herrera.

Not bad for a Chelsea reject.

 

Article By: Dare Ayinde 

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