The international break is upon us and so we have no more Premier League football to look forward to for another week. At just under three months in duration so far, the Premier League campaign is still in its early stage but even now we can see that Chelsea are going to be the team to beat this season. Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have been winning all the plaudits so far but it is fair to say, in my opinion, that Chelsea would not have found it so easy had it not been for Nemanja Matic.
While the two Spaniards have electrified opposition defences with their attacking partnership, it has been the Serb who has often provided the last line of defence in Chelsea’s midfield when their opponents have threatened to break through. Matic is considered to be one of the best holding midfielders in Europe at the moment and deservedly so but out of interest, how does he compare to some other of the Premier League’s top holding midfielders?
Matic has played every minute of Chelsea’s seven league games so far and in that time he has managed to win 17 tackles. However, as this has been from 41 attempts it means that he only has a 41% success rate when it comes to tackling opponents. This is six successful tackles more than Steven Gerrard however, who has played in a similar position at Liverpool and for the same amount of time as his Chelsea counterpart this season. Extend this to Manchester City’s Fernandinho and Manchester United’s Daley Blind, on 10 and nine successful tackles respectively (albeit with significantly less playing time) and you start to get an idea of just how good Matic is in this respect, if you haven’t saw him for yourself this season.
When you look at the average of tackles per game however, you see that Matic’s 2.43 average is only marginally better than Blind’s 2.25. These are much better than Fernandinho and Gerrard who have only averaged 1.43 and 1.57 tackles per game respectively.
Looking at how the players compare when you look at their success rates in duels overall, we a see a picture that contrasts with the notion that Matic is the best of the four. Taking these four players into consideration, the Chelsea midfielder only manages the third best success rate with 47.50%. This is slightly inferior to Blind’s 48.89% average and significantly less than Gerrard who has managed to win 59.37% of his duels. Fernandinho has been relatively poor in this respect, having won just 37.29% of his overall duels.
One of the key aspects of a holding midfielder’s game is to able to cut out any attack before it reaches their defence and this often involves intercepting any passes in behind the midfield. Matic has made 12 interceptions so far this season, a statistic that is equalled by Fernandinho and Blind and nowhere near being matched by Gerrard on four. When you average these interceptions out per game then Matic and Fernandinho have made 1.71 interceptions having made seven appearances each. Blind has been much better in this respect though with the Dutchman averaging three interceptions per game, which could go some way to explaining his club’s slightly better defensive form since the September international break.
Jose Mourinho may be slightly annoyed about that but will be relieved by the counter statistic that shows Matic has committed the third least amount of fouls on average of the four players compared here. The Chelsea midfielder has so far committed one foul per game on average compared with Fernandinho’s 1.14 fouls and Blind’s 1.25 fouls. Gerrard has committed the fewest at just 0.29 fouls per game.
As mentioned before in this article, Matic has built a reputation as being one of Europe’s best holding midfielders and while he deserves this reputation in the Premier League, it may not be so clear cut as some would have you think. Based on their performances so far, Daley Blind may give him a run for his money.