On Sunday, Manchester United managed to overcome a robust Chelsea side to claim all three points and strengthen their position in the top four ahead of the last leg of the Premier League season.
Despite starting the match very much second best to the visitors, the Red Devils steadily grew into the game gaining more control in the final third. And equally steady was Nemanja Matic’s performance – as he got better and better with every passing minute, dominating the one area they have often struggled to, in games of this nature. The 29-year old Serb produced another quiet masterclass of a performance as he patrolled the midfield with such confidence and thereby allowing the likes of McTominay and more crucially Paul Pogba to focus on creating chances further forward.
For a player who did and continues to do all the dirty work of regaining possession, recycling it and shielding the defence and covering for a fullback that’s run amok – attention can be the biggest enemy and the fact that the 29-year old was not the subject of notice despite being one of most involved players on the pitch is most definitely good news. His experience has already made a difference to the side in that United very rarely get utterly outplayed in the middle of the park – and in arguably the only occasion they were, they came up against the side that will win the league by a landslide margin.
On Sunday, the former Chelsea midfielder and winner of the Premier League in 2014/15 made 97 touches, 78 passes, winning the ball 15 times and 100% of his aerial duels against his former club – not to mention, covering more distance than anyone else on the pitch. His experience and the knack for being at the right place at the right time enabled McTominay – who himself, had one of the best games he will have in his fledgling Manchester United career.
What was however interesting on the day was how United engineered a comeback win – only for the second time this season and the first time against a top six side three years ago since 2015 when they fought back from a goal down to beat Man City 4-2 at Old Trafford. It was Ander Herrera on the day who cemented his place in the starting eleven. And by putting in a man-of-the-match performance against a top side in Chelsea, Matic showed why Jose Mourinho believed the Serb was key to the spine that Mourinho was creating in his Manchester United.
After a first half that was edged by the visitors in terms of intensity even though the scoreline ended 1-1, United roared back in the second with Matic in particular doubling the energy in every action as the home side squeezed Chelsea in the midfield. With Hazard taken care of, Willian was the lone threat and while Giroud’s late substitution threatened to alter the balance that Matic had provided the side for a very short period, United saw through the game by restricting the influx of crosses from wide areas – with Matic once again playing a sheet anchor role.
If anything could be completely in contrast to the calm and composed nature of his display on the pitch, then it would be his nonchalant demeanour off it. Speaking after the game he said,
“I didn’t have anything to prove to them [Chelsea]. I wanted to show my new club that I deserve to wear this Manchester United shirt. This was a big win and I hope the team will continue like this because every game in this league is a war.”
‘Every game in this league is a war’, he says. He certainly won that one for United.