Aside from competing for the acknowledgement of being the January transfer window’s biggest deal, Chelsea’s capture of Nemanja Matic and Manchester United’s record-breaking deal to bring in Juan Mata couldn’t be more contrasting.
I’m not talking about the obvious differences such as Matic being a holding midfielder and Mata plying his trade in a more advanced role, nor am I insinuating that the latter’s far superior reputation in world football should be a topic of debate.
No, for me the main split between the two deals, and one that should perhaps alarm United fans, is the fact that Jose Mourinho bought in someone he was in dire need of; David Moyes didn’t.
At a touch over 6 ‘4’ and rough and ready in the tackle, it’s fair to say Matic is a ready made plug for the only apparent hole Chelsea had in their squad.
Since the heydays of Claude Makelele and Michael Essien (during Essien’s first stint at Stamford Bridge at least) the Blues have been bereft of a real midfield bite. By that I mean the presence of an enforcer who breaks play up, passes the ball on and finds himself contributing in the final third only when his team are in dire need of a goal.
The likes of John Obi Mikel and David Luiz have tried and failed to fill that void and, though John Terry’s marshalled defence has never been one you could call suspect, Chelsea have frequently endured problems at the back as a result.
As such it was always going to be a priority of Mourinho’s to introduce someone who he felt could act as that all-important entity in modern day football; the shield who protects the back four.
In truth it’s become something of a trademark hand played by the Special One upon his arrival at a club. During his first spell in charge of the west London giants he wielded the aforementioned Claude Makelele to such effect that the defence-minded Frenchman became a linchpin in an otherwise forward-thinking, attacking based team.
Then when he moved to Inter Milan he deployed Esteban Cambiasso to sit in the pocket and act as the anchor whilst those around him probed and prodded for gaps in the opposition teams. Sami Khedira was the one tasked with that very same duty at Madrid, and now Matic has been signed to do the job at Chelsea. The common thread? All of these teams have enjoyed copious amounts of success.
And whilst it’s unfair to pin the glory of three financially fuelled side’s on three players doing the same job, Mourinho’s record suggests that the importance of the role cannot be understated.
What’s more, it’s the exact role that Chelsea have now filled. Call him a Stamford Bridge reject all you want; Matic is exactly the player the Blues needed to continue their charge towards the Premier League title.
Now let’s take a look at the signing of Juan Mata. Gifted? Undeniably so. One of the world’s leading playmakers on his day? Without a doubt. Going to solve the woes that have been plaguing United this season? You’re kidding yourself if you believe is.
Despite the fact that they’ve signed a player of true quality, in my mind Mata’s capture screams more of desperation to fix quickly rather than steadily improve the squad with mediated building blocks. A quick run over the reigning Premier League champions’ shortcomings so far this campaign reveal a few that stand out to even the most unobservant football fan.
A powerful centre-midfielder. A commanding, youthful centre-back. An out and out wide man who has the pace to burn a full-back and the quality to deliver consistently accurate balls. Three things United need to buy.
However what they bought is a Spaniard who is far better utilised in an central area just behind a striker, a position that Wayne Rooney has made his own in recent times.
Were the United team already battling for the league and mid-way through a season wherein their aims were to trump Manchester City, not scrape into the Champions League, I would say job well done with bringing Mata in.
In reality though I feel compelled to state the obvious; Chelsea have improved their squad where they needed it most, United still have far too many flaws present to come close to mounting any sort of challenge for their rivals.