Manchester United are back in the thick of stories that continue to divide opinion among fans – particularly after yesterday’s breaking news that Mourinho is very close to re-signing Nemanja Matic from his former club Chelsea for a fee in the region of £40-million.
The reaction it has generated on social media has not been all positive. In fact, one could observe a large stream of massively underwhelmed responses that you would have thought Manchester United had gone out and signed a retiring German International on the wrong side of 30 – who looks more interested to tweet selfies out with his equally popular girlfriend than work and improve on his own fitness to contribute on the pitch.
Instead, United could sign Chelsea’s two-time Premier League title winning midfielder Nemanja Matic.
Matic, understandably, is not a player that is going put people at Old Trafford on the edge of their seats. But Mourinho’s sides have historically never put fans on the edge of their seats – winning and doing what it takes to win only counts and the rest is bonus.
When Jose Mourinho made it his priority to bring the Serbian midfielder back to England in the January of 2014 – Chelsea were in not too dissimilar a position in terms of squad depth and qualities to the Manchester United of 2017. At United too, there is plenty of strengthening and retooling to do – in areas where they look light and for Mourinho – strengthening often means upgrading on the physicality as much as footballing ability.
But Matic is an acquisition that could affect both, in a positive and tangible way – although the results in the short term may not be immediately as tangible. This is a defensive midfielder who made himself absolutely imperious in the middle of the park in 2014/15 – when Chelsea coasted to the title, much more comfortably than they did two years later. And Matic was one of the most vital cogs in that carefully assembled machine – if not the most vital, for the Blues to win their first league title in five seasons.
How would Nemanja Matic fit in at United?
Mourinho won the league two years ago, favouring a 4-2-3-1 with Matic and Fabregas in the midfield – with the Serb almost dropping as a third centre-half at times to allow a full-back to support the attack.
This in turn will help the number 10 to extricate himself from a marker and run into the channels while also letting the wide player on the left/right to cut in and use the available space to shoot or create a chance to have a shot on target. When Chelsea were dominant in possession at Stamford Bridge, they invariably ended up winning the match by being bold up front and rock-solid at the back. It is not rocket science to compute how important it is for the Serb to play his part well – for the whole system to function effectively.
In short, what Matic will do to alleviate the goal-scoring issues at United – especially at Old Trafford, may not be scoring those goals by himself, although on a good day, he could do this – but allowing creative players the precious license to be more creative. Manchester United are rich in attacking talent even if their return of goals would have you believe otherwise.
United already possess Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba – individuals who could all reach double figures in goals and assists by themselves but that involves an unavoidable trade-off in defensive responsibilities, something that Mourinho is usually less willing to let happen.
By signing Nemanja Matic and playing him alongside an equally energetic Ander Herrera however, Jose Mourinho could have finally found a way to offset less defensive work from his attacking players, facilitated by the Serbian 28-year old – and strike the right balance between attack and defence in the process. As always, only time will tell.