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In praise of Nemanja Matic

Stu Forster/Getty Images

Just before halftime at the Britannia on Monday, Nemanja Matic did this:

That's the sort of tackle that, if a mere mortal attempted it, would have resulted in a dangerous free kick and probably a yellow card. But not Matic. Despite going to ground, he managed to stay uncommitted to the challenge on Geoff Cameron until the very millisecond in which he could reach out and recover the ball without touching the big defender. It was clean as a whistle, perfectly timed, and led directly to a real Chelsea scoring chance within seconds. And beyond that, it was also pure art.

In other words, it was 100 percent Nemanja Matic.

Since rejoining the club in January for £21 million -- a move widely mocked at the time since he'd been sent to Benfica as a makeweight in the David Luiz deal three years prior -- the Serbian midfielder has established himself as probably the first choice on the teamsheet week in, week out. His arrival completely changed the complexion of our team. Going from Ramires and Frank Lampard as the first choice pivot to, well, Matic and anyone else constitutes a phenomenal upgrade at the very core of the team, and it's more than a little telling that the Blues have only lost in four of the 26-year-old's 39 appearances for the club.

John Terry recently compared Matic to legendary midfielder Claude Makelele, which is a good indication of just how effective he is at shielding the Chelsea back four. But while that comparison reflects well on how good Matic is at his primary role, it simply doesn't hold up when it comes to his versatility. Sure, he might not be quite the shield Makelele was at the heart of midfield, but he can do far more than the Frenchman when he chooses to. And that, more than anything else, is what makes him so impressive.

His passing, when he spots an opportunity, is superb. While he's hardly a speedy tricker, his dribbles are occasionally unstoppable. And when he unleashes a shot, they tend to stay unleashed. Matic is fully capable of playing anywhere in the middle of the pitch, and that he's so good when asked to play in the holding role is a testament to his combination of all-around ability and absurd discipline.

Since the Ballack-Essien-Lampard core was split up thanks to transfers and injury, the Blues have been relatively weak in the centre of the pitch. Matic has changed all that. Ever since his coming-out party at the Etihad, when Yaya Toure was demolished en route to a 1-0 Chelsea win, it's been clear that we're no longer miles behind our competitors in midfield.

If we win trophies this season, the plaudits will almost certainly go elsewhere. Cesc Fabregas has been racking up the assists, Diego Costa the goals, Eden Hazard the 'oh my god he just did that' moments. But it's Matic who keeps everything ticking over. All hail.

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