A few years ago many Manchester United fans would have been correct in describing their midfield as brittle when the going got tough away in Europe.
Perhaps this was best demonstrated the last time United travelled to the Estádio da Luz when the Red Devils failed to pick up the three points, eventually crashing out of the group in embarrassment.
So far in this campaign, the club has become much more of a force, wiping the slate with Basel and CSKA Moscow and topping the table in the process.
Last night was another chance for the eyes of the world to analyse and construct their arguments on United, and while much debate circulated around the numerous offsides and Marcus Rashford’s goal, one man received praise across the board: Nemanja Matic.
Matic is essentially United’s vacuum cleaner, sweeping up the ball across the pitch, but against Benfica, his defensive capabilities came to fruition and on his return to his old club he starred.
What is so impressive about the Serbian international is his consistency. Spatially aware, he is able to use his powerful upper body strength to twist and turn his opponents inside out in a tight area, laying the ball off to more creative players who are grateful that the Serb has created space for them in the middle of the park.
Week in, week out. His display against the Portuguese champions told a tale of an authoritative general in midfield, issuing orders for players to get into the right positions.
And even when United’s attacking trio couldn’t work their way through Benfica’s defence, it was Matic who took the game into his own hands, barraging through three players on 35 minutes to provide United’s first shot on target in the match.
Even though Benfica had been thrashed by both CSKA Moscow and Basel, teams the Red Devils had already beaten comfortably, there were a few qualms of doubt going into the game given the myriad of injuries United had picked up.
With Matic in the first eleven, those were quashed. His 103 touches, coupled with a passing accuracy of 90.6% to go alongside four crucial tackles, personified a player who has seen it and done it at the top level of European football.
The question is now with Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea on the horizon whether United can perform to the standards that their fans expect them to reach. One thing is for certain and that’s Matic will be integral in both games.