Never have we, Chelsea fans, felt so reassured in the centre of midfield.
The reason is Nemanja Matic.
This bomber we managed to get back from Benfica has truly been revelational. Why bomber? Because the way he blows teams apart and dissects the opposition can leave you in awe. Those five-mile long legs intercept everything. He made ‘the tank’, Yaya Toure, look like a fool. Left him for dead.
Some of you might argue that the best player to have played in the pivot role for Chelsea would be the ever-so-humble Claude Makelele or maybe our favourite German, Michael Ballack.
However, I feel Matic serves our purpose much more. He’s a perfect mix of both.
Makelele’s game wasn’t one where he would chase the opponent, but consisted of waiting, watching and then making the decisive tackle.
He would rarely cross the half-way line. On the other hand, when Ballack was the centre of attention, he was never adept at defending. He would rely on his strength to bully the opponents, and would give us several avenues when going forward. His unerring crosses and lethal set-pieces were a treat for the eyes, but when you think about defending, Ballack’s name wasn’t the first to come to mind.
The way he forms an impenetrable wall in front of the back four, yet managing to find defence-splitting passes and leading our attack from the back is testament to that fact that he has now become the conductor of Chelsea’s orchestra.
On his first start, against Stoke, he raked up a pass accuracy of 89%, and put in five tackles: the highest by any player in a blue shirt. Whatever happened to ‘adjusting to the Premier League’.
In the all-important clash with our main title rivals, Manchester City, Matic shone by winning 75% of his tackles, having a successful dribble rate of 60%, and completing 85% of his passes, with only 4% of those passes in the backward direction. Yes, only four percent of his total passes in the backward direction. Mind-blowing.
The players who have been tried at the heart of Chelsea’s midfield this season include David Luiz, Ramires, Mikel and Frank Lampard. For the time being let’s add Marco Van Ginkel to that list.
We all know how inconsistent and rash David Luiz can be, despite the flashes of brilliance.
Ramires shows incredible energy and bursts of pace, but his entire game revolves around those two elements. Take for example his touches: pathetic - and I’m just being kind to him.
Mikel: by far the most improved Chelsea player. But he slows down the game so often that it hurts. He lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents and 80% of his passes are backwards or sideways. Thus, always allowing the other teams to get back in their shape.
And then there is Frank Lampard. We all love him but nobody would want to see Lampard doing the dirty work in midfield and defending. We love to see him in a more relaxed, free role.
Van Ginkel is yet to prove himself after an unfortunate, long-term injury.
And then, there’s Matic. Physical strength: Check. Turn of pace and ground coverage: Check. Closing down and harassing adversaries: Check. Dogged perseverance: Check.
Killer strikes: Check.
So far, he has made everything look like a stroll in the park. His overall awareness creates space and time for the forwards. This is very vital.
Against Man City, he was instrumental in the creation of some great moves. Remember his ball to Willian which led to a 4-on-1 opportunity for us? What about that blitzkrieg of a shot which struck the junction between the post and the cross-bar? Insane stuff.
It’s just a matter of time when he starts getting on the scoresheet, I feel.
Just for the record, one of his goals against Porto, last season, came second in the Puskas awards, which was won by that Ibrahimovic scorcher.
The re-signing of Nemanja Matic has been a masterstroke by the Special One. He stands for what Mourinho believes in: working your socks off until the last minute.
So, there are just three things that I would say,
His effect on Chelsea: Automatic Hit;
His effect on Chelsea fans: Instant Admiration.
Lastly, and most importantly, he has helped us cope with the departure of the much-loved Juan Mata, by not letting us miss him too much.
The others will really have to fight for a place in the squad, which Matic seems to have cemented.
Bow down to the Serbian Superman!
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