Nemanja Matic will miss this weekend’s Capital One Cup Final through suspension after seeing red last Saturday during Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Burnley. Chelsea have since lodged an appeal with the Football Association, but success in doing so would only mean that the player’s suspension will be reduced and not rescinded, thus truly confirming that the Serb will miss the final at least.
In the wake of Saturday’s events, Atkinson has been rested for this weekend’s upcoming Premier League matches and has only received fourth-official duties for Manchester United against Sunderland. Jose Mourinho described Barnes’ challenge as an “end of career tackle”, spiking further criticism from journalists and other media. The FA has since confirmed Barnes will not face any retrospective punishment for his challenge, with Atkinson having been deemed to have been in the best place to make a decision on the incident.
Albeit Matic’s reaction may have been morally justifiable, the red card came as a nightmarish sight to the eyes of Chelsea fans all over the world with cup-final-fever on everyone’s mind. Of all the player’s that Mourinho would want to avoid being without on Sunday’s trip to Wembley, Nemanja Matic is arguably the one he would want to be without the least. Matic has been a pivotal figure in the heart of the Blues’ midfield this season.
The Serbia international’s Chelsea career was almost one to forget after originally arriving on English waters, in 2009, without making much of a splash. After an injury plagued first season, Matic went out on-loan to Dutch club Vitesse where he had his first taste of starting matches in a highly reputable league. However, it wasn’t to be once returning to Stamford Bridge, as his loan spell only saw him act as valuable leverage in a deal that saw him go to Benfica, along with £21m, in a swap-deal for David Luiz.
Matic thrived at Benfica under Jorge Jesus, who had converted him from a rigid playmaker into a commanding defensive midfielder. Matic enjoyed a fruitful two-and-a-half years in Portugal in his new role, winning league and cup trophies along the way for the 33 times Portuguese league champions.
On 15th January 2014, Matic was re-signed by previous employers Chelsea for a deal worth £21m, on a five-and-a-half year contract. He made his second debut for the club four days later, replacing Willian in a 3–1 win against Manchester United. Since this time, Matic has been an ever-present for Mourinho’s Blues, putting in highly rated performances on a consistent basis, and this brings us to how much Chelsea will miss him on Sunday.
The form guide suggests Matic’s absence could be a telling factor. Having remained unbeaten in their opening 21 matches this season, Chelsea lost 2-1 to Newcastle in their first fixture when Matic was missing. Jose Mourinho was forced to partner John Obi Mikel with Cesc Fabregas in central midfield at St James’ Park, but Chelsea were unable to find their rhythm as they succumbed to Papiss Cisse’s brace.
Of the 37 games featuring Matic this season Chelsea have lost only one – at Tottenham (isn’t it spooky how these things work out?). Although the 26-year-old was relatively disappointing in December’s 5-3 defeat to Tottenham at White Hart Lane, it is clear that Chelsea are a much stronger outfit when he is available. The balance the Matic-Fabregas axis affords in the middle of the pitch has been crucial to the team’s success, with the Blues losing just one of the 32 matches in which both have played.
While Fabregas has proven his quality as Chelsea’s creative spark, Matic is the one who would have been tasked to stop Christian Eriksen on Sunday and shadow Harry Kane when the striker drops deep to receive the ball. Only Lucas Leiva has averaged more tackles per game in the Premier League, underlining Matic’s imposing presence.
Mourinho must now look to Ramires or possibly youngster Nathan Ake to deputise at Wembley as he pursues his first silverware since returning to Chelsea. Manchester City have the chance to close the gap to just two points at the top of the Premier League on Sunday with a win over Liverpool, which could heap pressure on Jose’s men should they spurn their opportunity for glory on Sunday.