Manchester United: Is Nemanja Matic the answer?

Jose Mourinho has begun part two of his Manchester United rebuild. The Special One prefers to do his work early and he has strengthened the team’s defense by bringing in Sweden’s Victor Lindelof. The defender’s body of work isn’t that extensive but if he has an impact like Eric Bailly then the future is indeed bright. For a while, United seemed to be focusing on replacing the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic with one (or maybe two) of Alvaro Morata, Andrea Belotti or Romelu Lukaku. So far, United haven’t been able to push a striker through the door. As a result, Mourinho is now focusing on central midfield. If reports are to be believed Jose will be reunited with his former Chelsea charge Nemanja Matic. Let’s dive right in and analyze this potential transfer.

The price tag

£40 million is an incredible amount of money anyway you look at it. However, it’s not the most grotesque amount that United could pay. Firstly, this is a transfer within the Premier League and between rivals. Matic was integral to Chelsea’s last two (two out of the last three campaigns) Premier League triumphs. He formed a solid partnership with Ngolo Kante as Chelsea dominated most games. They could in actuality ask for a lot more. A contributing factor that brings Matic’s price down is his age; the big Serb turns 29 in August. Chelsea are also investing in the future by closing in on the signing of Monaco’s 22 year old Tiemoue Bakayoko. If this transfer goes through, United will be paying for experience, ruggedness and something that United need more than anything else; reliability. That said, Chelsea bought him back from Benfica for £21 million, this would represent a tidy profit for the London club and United would be over paying, but the market is a wild at the moment so maybe it’s not that bad.

Relationship with the manager

Matic and Mourinho are known to have a good relationship with each other. However, in Mourinho’s disastrous title defense of 2015/16, he completely humiliated Matic, bringing him on at half time against Southampton and replacing him 27 minutes later. Matic had this to say about the incident:

“Inside it hurt, of course. Some players react and cause some problems but I didn’t. It was very hard. You have to play football to see how it feels.”

Of course Mourinho said that it wasn’t personal and he did not mean to humiliate a man he called a giant (both for his height and his stellar performances). Considering how Mourinho’s relationship with almost every player at Chelsea broke down that season you’d think that bridge had been burned. However, Matic has stressed that they are on good terms:

“I have read several times I think that I had a bad relationship with him, but it is likely to have been written by some idiots. I commented with Mourinho about these allegations, we just laughed.”

If Matic really is the ultimate professional as his words seem to suggest then this could be an astute signing indeed.

His position in the team

After playing in Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 system and most recently in Conte’s 3-5-2 you get the feeling that Matic is as tactically savvy as they come. If Mourinho plays Matic with Herrera then he could be attempting to recreate the midfield formula that worked for Chelsea with Herrera’s tireless running and intelligent positioning aligning well with Matic’s defensive nous and ball retention skills. This should see Pogba deployed in a more advanced role, perhaps as the number 10. Fellaini should finally go to the bench with Michael Carrick coming on late in games to keep hold of the ball. This is how I’d expect United to line up with Matic in the side.

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All things considered, Matic should give United 3-4 years of good productivity and if he can utilize his title winning experience and build a solid partnership with Herrera and Pogba then the fee may just be worth it. Now let’s see if United can actually make this happen.

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