Amidst all the controversies, bad results, and general disappointed in and around Chelsea Football Club last season, it's easy to forget some of the more minor incidents that occured.
One such incident was Chelsea's first meeting with Southampton last season, a 3-1 loss at the Bridge, one of three defeats by that scoreline in the first two and a half months of the season. Chelsea started with a double-pivot of Cesc Fabregas and Ramires, the latter of whom was replaced at half-time by Nemanja Matic after collecting a booking for persistent fouling. Matic himself only lasted 28 minutes, and suffered the embarrassment of getting substituted as a substitute, something that happens very, very rarely outside of injuries.
After the match, Matic kept quiet and Mourinho defended his decision by claiming it was a tactical decision to bring on ... wait for it ... Loic Remy as Chelsea were chasing the game, but it was just another unhappy event in a season already full of them (and with much more to come).
In any case, with Matic facing Southampton for the first time since that incident (he technically played a couple seconds as a late-late substitute in our win at St. Mary's in February, but that hardly counts), the resurgent midfielder was asked to reflect on last season's events.
"I felt terrible to be subbed, to be honest. I am a man first of all and of course I felt bad at that moment. But as you know, I didn't react, I stayed professional."
"Normally some of the players react to that and cause some problems but as you can see I didn't react and showed respect for the coach and for the club and my team. It was very hard. You have to play and see how it feels."
"I knew I did the right thing when I sat on the bench. I knew I did the right thing and I am proud that I didn't react."
Of course, it was not a happy season overall for the midfielder, who was largely a shadow of his former self, like many of his teammates. While Mourinho persisted with him, interim manager Guus Hiddink had no qualms about dropping him in the second-half of the season. Matic, looked half-way out the door by the end, and when he scored against Sunderland, he refused to even celebrate. As he says, there was very little to celebrate about.
"If the team target is to be first, second or third, it is hard to celebrate when you are tenth in the table. Of course I was happy to score, but our target is not to be tenth."
Fast forward five months, and the mood has improved drastically. Conte convinced Matic to stay, and has relied on him quite heavily in midfield. The 28-year-old has started every single Premier League game so far this season, and has even contributed with a team-leading four assists in those ten games (good enough for joint second in the league, too, one behind Kevin De Bruyne).
"As you can see, we have improved a lot game but that is normal."
"We had a new coach at the beginning of the season and every day we work on that to see what he wants from us and day by day, we are better and better and we show that on the pitch. We are in a good way. We are improving as a team. Also individually, I feel that everyone is one step better than before and much better.
"Of course everyone feels better when you win the games. I always try to give my best and work hard and with this season, with better results, it feels better. This season I am physically better and with the results comes confidence. I hope to continue like this."
-Nemanja Matic; source: Mirror
After a few initial struggles, Matic has been repaying the head coach's faith and at time, dare I say, has looked almost as good as in those glorious first 12 months back with Chelsea in 2014.