Manchester United haven’t won the Premier League title since 2013 – that’s four seasons without top-flight glory. Considering Manchester United won the title 13 times in first 20 years of the Premier League, it’s starting to become an alarming dry spell. Missing out on the top-flight crown since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement is a concern but Manchester United haven’t even challenged the title winners in each of those seasons.
Jose Mourinho won the Premier League three times with Chelsea so Manchester United are in good hands at coaching level. The manager’s big task is adding proven title winners to his squad. David De Gea, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young are the only surviving members of Ferguson’s squad that pipped Manchester City to the Premier League crown in 2013. Matic will bring further title-winning experience, having been part of the Chelsea side that won the title twice in the past three seasons.
Having experience of lifting the Premier League trophy is one thing, but knowing what Mourinho expects from his title-winning teams makes Matic a good signing. Mourinho trusts the Serbia international despite a disastrous defence of their league crown in the 2015-16 season. Matic was one of the players who suffered an alarming drop in form. The 28-year-old suffered the humiliation of coming on as a substitute when Chelsea were drawing 1-1 with Southampton – before he was replaced less than 30 minutes later with the Saints 3-1 up at Stamford Bridge.
Clearly Matic has recovered from that humiliating experience in October 2015 and Mourinho has no doubts about the Serb’s loyalty to him. Indeed, Mourinho gave a glowing review of his new signing’s qualities, notably describing “loyalty” as one of Matic’s chief traits.
“Nemanja is a Manchester United player and a Jose Mourinho player. He represents everything we want in a footballer; loyalty, consistency, ambition, team player,” Mourinho told the club’s website on Monday.
Matic will know how Mourinho likes to operate and that makes his addition a particularly shrewd one given other potential signings such as Eric Dier have never worked under the Manchester United boss.
Matic’s time appeared to be up when Chelsea signed Tiemoue Bakayoko in a £40m deal from Ligue 1 side AS Monaco. The prospect of Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante working in tandem in Antonio Conte’s team is a tantalising one for Chelsea supporters. However, the 23-year-old is still recovering from knee surgery. Presumably, Bakayoko will take some time to get up to speed and then there is the small matter of adjusting to the Premier League. Granit Xhaka arrived at Arsenal last summer for a sizable fee but the Switzerland international struggled to transfer his Bundesliga performances to the Premier League with the change of gear proving too great for the £33m addition.
Manchester United won’t have such fears with Matic. The Serbian knows what is required to excel in the Premier League. Matic has been training alone with a fitness coach so Mourinho will have to be patient as Matic returns to his peak fitness courtesy of some intense sessions with his new team-mates. Once the cobwebs are gone, the £40m signing should effortlessly slot into the Manchester United team.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this transfer for Manchester United supporters is what Matic’s arrival means for Paul Pogba. The France international was a solid if unspectacular addition to the Manchester United team. Yes, his passing range was exceptional but the world-record signing didn’t dominate games as many expected. Mourinho was criticised for labouring Pogba with defensive duties, as a result diminishing his ability to open up opposition defences.
The signing of Matic means that the Serbian can slot into the Manchester United team alongside tenacious Ander Herrera. Pogba can start in a more advanced midfield position and work on translating his Instagram bromance with new signing Romelu Lukaku into assists and goals. Look at how Eden Hazard thrived at Chelsea with Matic and Kante giving the No10 more attacking freedom last term.
The Manchester United manager informed Galatasaray that signing him would be easier than securing a deal to bring Marouane Fellaini to Turkey last week. The 54-year-old, who won’t have fooled many with his bout of humility, clearly values Fellaini as an important member of his Manchester United squad but the Belgian midfielder will surely make way for Matic. The former Everton midfielder possesses greater aerial ability than the new midfield signing but on every other count, Matic comes out on top.
The new number 31 has good technique, an eye for a pass and is even capable of a spectacular goal (or two). Only Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez made more assists in the Chelsea team than Matic last season. So while the 28-year-old is predominantly viewed as a defensive player, Matic has the ability to help Manchester United transition from defence to attack. His signing could signal that Mourinho is ready to adopt a more open approach against their big rivals next season.
Having said that, if Manchester United are travelling to Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester City needing a point to win the title, you can expect to see Fellaini and Matic anchoring their midfield.
Some Manchester United supporters are naturally concerned about coughing up such a big fee on a player who turned 29 on Tuesday and appeared to be past his best in the last two seasons. Matic started 30 of Chelsea’s 38 league games last season and made a further five appearances from the bench. Conte clearly valued Matic. But the holding midfielder was still a shadow of the player who was so impressive in Chelsea’s title-winning campaign under Mourinho.
Matic’s confidence could still be fragile after their disastrous title defence in 2015-16. Indeed, the Serbia international received a lot of criticism for his alarming drop in form. Manchester United represents a fresh start for Matic. Like his new manager, perhaps the former Benfica midfielder will benefit from a change of environment.
Manchester United named 35-year-old Michael Carrick as Wayne Rooney’s replacement as Manchester United club captain earlier this summer. The England international should be an inspiration for Matic as the Serb looks to navigate his late 20s and early 30s. Carrick, like Matic, doesn’t possess great pace but an excellent reading of the game coupled with superb passing ability. Manchester United’s latest addition can emulate Carrick’s success and his transfer fee would be rendered irrelevant after five or six years of service.
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