Chelsea's interest in Fredy Guarin has reportedly been in decline over the past week or so, though whether that's due to the asking price of one of the parties involved or increased interest in another option is a bit unclear. Since reports of our decreased interest in Guarin began to circulate though, we've been finding ourselves linked to Benfica's Nemanja Matic with increasing frequency.
Several days ago we heard that Matic is ready for a bigger challenge, while reports are circulating today that he'd welcome a Chelsea return, and that the Blues are readying a bid for the player. While neither of today's reports suggests any sort of source that should make us take note on their own, he's a player that makes some sense for the club from any number of different standpoints. Because of that, we at WAGNH decided that it might be time to take a closer look at the player that we're likely to hear quite a bit about in the coming weeks.
As most are well aware by now, Matic used to be a Chelsea player. The Blues signed him at the age of 21, but held onto him for only 18 months before allowing him to move to Benfica in the David Luiz deal. At the time, Chelsea had a surplus of excellent options in the midfield, and a very promising looking Josh McEachran. Defensive options were less plentiful though, and David Luiz was a budding superstar.
Frank Arnesen would eventually pull the trigger on the deal shipping Matic out, ironically on the same day that he oversaw Fernando Torres to Chelsea. Torres has been a disaster since day one, and while Luiz has been a key component of recent Chelsea sides, Matic has blossomed into an equally excellent player at a position we've been weak at for the past several seasons. I think most Chelsea fans would rather undo the January deadlines deals from 2011 if they could, and probably erase any recollection they had of Arnesen as well.
We looked at Matic in depth when it became apparent that Chelsea were potentially using him in that deal, here's how I described him almost three years ago:
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.
Since that time, not a whole lot has changed in terms of his size, athleticism, workrate, or style. He's still massive, still a very good athlete, still covers a ton of ground every match, and is still best utilized in a role that doesn't limit that excellent athleticism.
The notable difference in the player from three years ago is the precision with which he now operates. He now reads the game considerably faster than he did three years ago, and his passing has become far more accurate as a result. Instead of either holding the ball too long or simply getting rid of it as soon as receiving it, Matic is now making excellent quick decisions on what to do and moving the ball in short order. He's not a dynamic distributor in the style of Andrea Pirlo, but he's certainly not going to be someone that we complain "only passes it sideways".
He's always been very aggressive in his defending, but his total fouls and cards have remained about the same while the amount of challenges he's attempting have nearly doubled. He'll likely always be the sort of player that flirts with yellow card suspensions, but that's more because of the volume of challenges he's involved in as opposed to overly reckless play.
I was fairly high on Matic when we parted ways with him three years ago, and nothing has changed with the player in that time to make me change my thinking. Central midfielders tend to reach their peak at a later age than many other positions, as elite athleticism is less important than good decision making in congested areas. At just 25, there's very little reason to believe that Matic's best seasons are still in front of him, and he's likely to still be improving for at least another season or two.
If you want a perfect example of this, just look at Yaya Toure. The Ivorian was always a gifted physical specimen, but didn't move to a top club until joining Barcelona at the age of 24. His best years clearly came after joining Manchester City at the age of 27 though, and he's still going strong at 30. In addition, size and strength players tend to age very well, far more than players who rely solely on their explosiveness.
Matic has a very similar profile to Yaya, an elite, massive athlete that's developing into a very good decision maker. He's the kind of player that can be used in any number of roles, and can give you a matchup nightmare in the midfield without having to overload numbers in order to achieve that. Like Yaya, Matic is an exceptional athlete, and he can lose a step and still be superior to many central midfielders in that regard. If you've been drooling over the tank Manchester City have had bossing the midfield for the past several years, there aren't many young players that profile him more closely right now than Nemanja Matic.
The player would compliment our current under 30 options very well. With Ramires, he'd provide a pair that cover immense amounts of ground, challenge for every ball in the midfield, and allow the attacking band to worry less about covering for the pivot. With Mikel, he'd give Chelsea a physically imposing pair, capable of easily putting games to bed. Marco van Ginkel is a bit of a wildcard, as many Chelsea fans haven't yet seen enough of him to know what he brings to the table. Matic would seemingly fit with the him as well though, either as a pivot partner or in a three-man midfield.
It would certainly be a bit irritating to see Chelsea pay through the nose for a player that they let go just three years ago, but it's far better than the alternative of continuing to be short of midfield quality. I'm ecstatic to see serious links to the player starting to show up in the papers, and I'm really hoping it picks up after Benfica take on Porto tomorrow.
- Chelsea's top prospects: Josh McEachran, Jeremie Boga, Lewis Baker, and Patrick Bamford
- De Bruyne figures agreed, according to Belgian media
- Hull City vs. Chelsea: Cech sets record, Blues go top
- Rodgers confident that Victor Moses will make a 'big contribution' over the second half of the season
- The Daily Hilario: Premier League Matchday 21, NFL Playoffs