In a starting eleven adorned with experienced players and creative talents, one individual in particular has slipped under the radar with regards to media attention and personal decorations: Nemanja Matić.
Ever since the midfielder’s return to Stamford Bridge, it has been evident that the he’s matured into a truly accomplished player. His physical presence, defensive awareness and comfortable nature in possession saw the 26-year-old cement his position at the very centre of Chelsea’s midfield.
Matić’s maturity and development in comparison to his first period at the club now mean that his strengths echs the talents of one of the very greatest holding midfielders, Claude Makélélé. John Terry rightfully praised Matić’s contribution at the halfway stage of last year’s campaign: ‘You look at the exciting days when the manager first came, and Claude Makélélé was the master in that position where Matić plays and Matić is very close to that.’
Over the course of the past season, Matić formed a valuable partnership with Cesc Fabregas, with Fabregas’ flamboyance and attacking ability complementing Matić’s determination and physicality, thus offering Chelsea’s defence protection while remaining more than capable of opening other teams up. With a partner like Fabregas, it’s only natural that the Serbian’s focus is prominently placed on his defensive duties.
On the field, Matić is a commanding presence and his towering height ensures he’s competitive in aerial duels. His physique and strength means that he has no hesitation over getting involved in fifty-fifty challenges — not something that could generally be said of his opponents. His tackling is superb, and his reaction to winning the ball is better: Matić possesses an unparalleled ability, to disrupt the natural flow of the game by dispossessing opponents and feeding the ball to fellow team-mates in advanced positions.
Take, for instance that tackle against Stoke City at the Britannia. Having thrown out a telescopic leg to retrieve a ball he had no right whatsoever to even challenge for, Matic could have turned around and passed back to his defence. He didn’t shuttling possession quickly to Eden Hazard, and had Diego Costa not missed a one-on-one with Asmir Begovic we’d still be watching the highlights today.
Matic is indispensable to Chelsea’s cause. Unsurprisingly, that means he plays the vast majority of the games. IN the Premier League, Matić registered 36 appearances out of a possible 38, missing the rest through suspension. He recorded the highest total of tackles in the league at 126. That’s a frightening statistic, highlighting Matić’s value to the club. Without him, the Blues are in trouble, and it came as no surprise that the first defeat of the season came in one of the matches that the Serbian missed, the 2-1 reverse at Newcastle United.
The tackles aren’t the only standout stat. Matic’s clearance numbers are amazing for a midfielder, and he covers one average more than seven miles a game. Ignoring his contributions to Chelsea’s successful campaign seems almost ludicrous, but even when he’s acknowledged by the press, it tends to be as an afterthought.
If you’re paying attention, there’s no denying just how good Matic is. But, he’s human, so there are areas he could improve, and you can bet that Jose Mourinho will be looking to hone his top midfielder’s skills yet further this season. Matic has the ability to become one of the world’s best, but he’s not there yet, and there are two areas in particular in which his game could do with some polishing.
As mentioned earlier, Matić’s focus is always on his defensive responsibilities, and indeed his goal in the frantic 6-3 victory over Everton was to a certain degree a collector’s item. But although his shooting wasn’t anything to write home about, that didn’t stop him trying — he averaged more than an attempt every other match from range. The total? A 4.3 percent conversion rate, well below Chelsea’s overall of 18.1. For a player of Matic’s calibre that has to be a little embarrassing, long range efforts or no. Improving his finishing, his shot selection, or both would mean he’s not wasting opportunities to contribute to the Chelsea attack.
And despite his tremendous defensive work, there is perhaps one area of weakness. He only managed seven blocks in the entire Premier League campaign, and that wasn’t from a lack of time spent in his own box. When Chelsea are under the cosh, Matic has yet to master the art (so expertly practiced by the teammates John Terry and Gary Cahill) of doing anything and everything in his power to prevent shots from getting through on goal. Perhaps doing better than Ander Herrera in this regard could be a sufficient target for next season.
But nitpicks aside, Matic is quite obviously essential to the Chelsea cause. His presence in midfield provides the Blues with a firm foundation defensively, and he’s good enough in possession to be useful in both counterattacking and buildup play. It’s difficult to imagine how Chelsea could possibly have won the Premier League without his return from Benfica in January 2014 — it’s been an entirely different team with him as a regular starter in the centre of the pitch.
Matic has a long way to go to match Makélélé, if he’s aiming for him. But he was the terrifying anchor of a dominant, Premier League winning side, and will only get better. That’s scary. For everyone else.
We Ain't Got No History's 2015/16 season preview was edited by Joe Tweeds and designed by Graham MacAree. If you've enjoyed the work of the authors who generously donated their time to this project, please share with your friends and consider supporting The Chelsea Foundation as a way of saying thank you.Credits