Manchester United’s latest signing Nemanja Matic is not the kind of player who gets fans’ pulses racing. There will be no twitter videos of him dancing and dabbing with Stormzy, no hashtags or emoji’s surrounding the Old Trafford pitch and no £30 million plus advertising deals. However, he is the kind of player who helps teams to win titles. He has, of course, won two in the past three years at Chelsea as well as picking up a Primeira Liga title in Portugal.
Matic is a clever, tactically knowledgeable and highly disciplined defensive midfielder who can help to brilliantly break up attacks. He is very much a Mourinho player who will stick to his task and not roam around the pitch leaving gaps.
He, also, has a penchant for spectacular goals with his FA Cup semi-final screamer against Tottenham and his beautiful volley against Porto when at Benfica serving as examples of his technical ability.
However, as Mourinho knows, Matic does not just make the team better because of his own qualities but because of his ability to allow other players to shine.
Alongside N’golo Kante last season, he provided a stable defensive midfield partnership which allowed the front three to focus on attacking. In essence, a player with Matic’s defensive ability and willingness to stick to a task means other, more attacking players, don’t have to look over their shoulders and think about defensive duties consistently.
One player, in particular, is likely to thrive with this new freedom – Paul Pogba. He showed, in flashes, last season that he really is a special player. In the games against Chelsea, Ajax and Rostov in particular, Pogba shone and was the best player on the pitch. The worry for Manchester United was that Pogba did not manage to reach his top level every game.
This was partly owing to him adapting to the Premier League, but Jose also struggled to have a clear game plan for his midfield as he consistently chopped and changed of both personnel and shape.
Matic should help to alleviate this and allow for a more settled midfielder where he and Pogba start along with Herrera, Fellaini or Carrick. Matic can sit back and defend allowing Pogba to have a freer and less restrained box-to-box role. Pogba will be able to roam freely and pick up the ball all over the pitch.
It was Pogba’s brilliance at Juventus that convinced Manchester United to break the World transfer record for him, and he always thrived in a midfield trident at the Bianconeri.
Usually, the French star would play alongside Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal with both Sami Khedira and Marchisio also serving as options. Pirlo’s brilliant passing range allowed him to hang back and make the play from deep with Vidal hassling and harrying players to win the ball.
With Matic’s arrival at Manchester United, the Serb can take on the role that Vidal fulfilled, Herrera or Carrick could provide a deeper lying playmaking role and Pogba can push forward and play the box-to-box role that made him a star in Italy.
Mourinho is not a manager that is worried about signing players that are not the biggest names. He is interested in winning and winning only, Nemanja Matic will increase Manchester United’s chances of winning both because of his own defensive acumen and his ability to allow the players around him to play better.