This could turn into a trend. After last week’s excellent midfield display in Manchester United’s 2-1 Super Cup loss to Real Madrid, Matic won the hearts of thousands of fans. They saw the Serb as a missing piece of the jigsaw but questions on whether he could perform like that on a consistent basis remained.
Earlier this month Jose Mourinho had said of Matic: “In my opinion, to play simple in that position is genius, and he’s a genius because he makes everything so simple, the team runs, the ball runs, he’s fantastic in his position.”
By 20 minutes of United’s opening Premier League game against West Ham United yesterday those realms of doubt were quashed empathically, and in hindsight, Mourinho was proved right.
Cool, calm and collective Matic imposed himself in a midfield two with Paul Pogba, allowing the Frenchman to spring forward. His challenge on Pedro Obiang was vital in United’s first goal as it created the space for a counterattack which was finished off in some style by Romelu Lukaku.
Minutes later the Serb delighted the home crowd with a dazzling dribbling run on the right-hand side, elegantly weaving past four West Ham players. While that did excite those inside Old Trafford, it was his instinctive passing which proved most troublesome to handle, cutting through the away side’s midfield like a knife through butter.
For years Michael Carrick has taken that defensive midfield role but coming towards the end of his career there was no doubt that United needed to freshen up. Like Carrick, Matic is not the player who blows teams away but performs outstandingly well in a fundamental position.
Whenever it looked likely Javier Hernandez, recently signed from Bayern Leverkusen for £13m, would pour forward the Serb closed off the space and shut out any potential threat.
It now seems inconceivable that Chelsea could have sold one of their most significant players to a title rival, optimised by the different displays at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford at the weekend.
Matic made more passes (69) and covered more distance (11.41km) than any other player on the pitch, while his 89 touches were the most of any of his United teammates.
The most revealing stat, however, was that the Serb managed a 100% take-on success, proving that he was not afraid to gain position himself by taking on players, while also having a cool head to know when not to push forward.
All afternoon he became a nuisance for The Hammers and if United are going to challenge for the title Matic has to stay fit. It could be one of the signings of the season.