With the news this morning that Benfica could be receiving Nemanja Matic as part of a move for David Luiz, I thought it might be a good time to take a closer look at the young Serbian international. Having made only two appearances for the club last season, many of you have probably never seen Matic in action. For starters, he's a Serbian born central midfielder who is better with his left foot than his right. He stands a bit over 6'4", and he's an exceptional athlete for a man his size. Chelsea have utilized him as more of a box to box player than a defensive screen, as his ball handling, work rate, and distribution skills are exceptional for such a large young man. While Matic is a threat from set pieces, he's not yet much of a threat on goal from open play.
He joined Chelsea in the summer of 2009 from Slovakian club MFK Kosice for a fee of 1.5 million pounds. He wasn't immediately available to the squad, as he was suffering from a broken bone in his foot suffered on international duty (Matic made his debut for the Serbian senior national team at the age of 19). Behind Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel, Michael Ballack, Deco, Joe Cole, Yuri Zhirkov, Florent Malouda, and others in a loaded Chelsea midfield, opportunities for Matic to see the field in 2009 were rare. He was definitely purchased as part of the growing youth movement at Stamford Bridge though, and has 'best midfielder in the world' sort of potential. While several of these midfield options have gone on to leave the club, we added Ramires this summer to bolster the depth of the midfield. It's hard to picture much playing time being available, especially given the use of Josh McEachran with the first team.
When Merab Jordania purchased Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem this past summer, a unique opportunity appeared to open for Chelsea. Chelsea immediately struck up a deal to send three of it's most physically gifted players to the dutch club, paying all of their wages in return for guarantees of regular playing time. Matic has befitted greatly, starting 21 times to date for Vitesse and forcing himself back into the discussion for the Serbian 1st team with his strong play. Here's a clip of a few Matic highlights with the reserves last year:
As you can see, even with his size he's used as more of a creator than a holder (even taking several corners). Here's a little of Matic at a younger age, and a slightly shorter build:
Once again, you can see that Matic is operating as more of a creator than a holder. While his role with Chelsea going forward is uncertain, I'd rather see us keep the young Serb and just pay Benfica a little extra cash to complete this deal. If Benfica won't go for that, I'd just as soon let them keep their center back.
While players like Michael Mancienne are near certainties to be sold in the near future, I dislike giving up on a player with the physical gifts Matic has at this early stage in his career. If everything clicks with Nemanja Matic, he has the physical tools to be one of the elite players in Europe. I have a strong suspicion that this move will come back to haunt us in the future, and that this may end up being one of the better moves in the history of Portuguese football.