Nemanja Matic didn’t have a great year last season, and the signing of Ngolo Kante casts further doubt about his role in the squad. After being signed for £32m, it is clear that Kante will be the side’s main defensive midfielder. Matic could still have a major role in the side as there are many unknowns about how Antonio Conte will line up. In the recent past, he has been known to play a 3-5-2 formation, which could see him line up with two defensive midfielders.
Although it is more likely that Cesc Fabregas takes up the central midfield berth next to Kante in Chelsea’s first choice line up. Fabregas has the passing abilities that allow him to launch attacks from deep, and he could play a similar role to that played by Claudio Marchisio in Conte’s Juventus side. If he opts to play two defensive midfielders, he will struggle to get Fabregas into his side, as Eden Hazard and Oscar are more likely to play the advanced central role.
Kante is full of energy and his defensive stats were incredible last season. He is more than capable of carrying out the defensive midfield alone. Matic is less mobile and although he is better on the ball, that isn’t really needed given that Chelsea have a lot of technically-gifted players in their midfield.
The defensive midfielder in this system needs to be great at retrieving the ball, which Kante is better at than Matic, placing him ahead of the Serbian. Comparing their stats from last season, Kante made 156 interceptions compared to 67 made by Matic. The Frenchman also won an impressive 125 tackles, which again dwarfed Matic’s total of 63. These stats show that Kante had a much better season last year and his playing style may be better suited to Conte’s style.
Although it is far from certain that Conte will start with a 3-5-2 formation as this requires a lot of coaching, and he may use a 4-2-3-1 to begin with. If that is the case, he may choose to play Kante and Matic together in the double pivot.
This would allow Chelsea to use Eden Hazard, Willian and Cesc Fabregas in the attacking roles. Given that they lack the defenders to play in a 3-5-2, this is how Conte may choose to go, which means that Matic could still have a future at the club. I think popular bookies would agree with that theory also.
Juventus have been linked with a move for Matic, and with Paul Pogba seemingly on the way out, they will have the money to fund it. It will be interesting to see if Chelsea allow him to move on as it will tell us a lot about how they plan to set up this season. Matic has been a key figure for them over the last two and a half years, with his performances key to their title-winning campaign of 2014/15. He is still seen as one of the best at breaking up the play and could return to his best form under Conte.
Matic was frustrated with his form last season and realised that he significantly regressed, which was one of the reasons that the side faltered so badly. A change of scenery appeals to the Serbian according to reports and the signing of Ngolo Kante is only going to increase his concerns. Chelsea will be keen to keep the midfielder, as they need to have competition for places to ensure that performances remain at the highest level possible. He is also very good defensively and could be a good option to have in the squad.
There are no guarantees that Kante will be able to replicate the level of performance that he showed in his first season. The presence of Matic in the squad will keep the competition for his place high, which will only benefit the side. Also Conte will have the option of playing two excellent defensive midfielders together. This could be how he decides to start the season, especially if he decides to sick with the 4-2-3-1 formation from last season, as Chelsea have a lot of attacking talent and can afford to play two ball retrievers in the double pivot.