Why Matic is our Beast from the East
Nemanja Matic has undoubtedly become an integral member of the Manchester United team, in what is already an impressive debut season at Old Trafford so far.
The Serbian’s influential performance in the superb comeback win over his former club Chelsea last weekend proved he is still as efficient and effective as ever, helping the Reds come out on top in an intense midfield battle against last season’s PFA Player of the Year, N’Golo Kante, and former United man Danny Drinkwater.
Although he wasn’t among the nominees for our February Player-of-the-Month award, the midfielder’s consistently high-level performances have been evident.
With a busy month to come in three different competitions, as United enter the business end of the campaign, we take a closer look at the statistics which suggest Matic could be a key figure in the Reds’ quest for success...
MATIC’S RECORD AGAINST LIVERPOOL
The Reds begin March with a trip to Crystal Palace on Monday night, but thereafter, there’s a crucial run of home games ahead – with Liverpool, Sevilla and Brighton all visiting the Theatre of Dreams in the space of seven days.
Matic, who had two spells at Chelsea spanning seven years before swapping Stamford Bridge for Old Trafford last summer, has a good record against Liverpool in his career to date.
He has been on the losing side just once in his nine games in all competitions against our fierce rivals from Merseyside – winning three times and drawing on five occasions. The 29-year-old, who started out as an attacking midfielder but moving to a more defensive role during his three-year stint at Benfica, also has two assists to his name against Liverpool.
Twice a Premier League winner with Chelsea, Matic has averaged 70.86 passes in every match this term and is the only outfield player to feature in each of the club’s 28 Premier League games this term.
HOW HE'S FARED IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Although he is yet to lift the trophy or reach the final, Matic has had some success in Europe’s elite competition down the years.
Overall, he has scored three goals and registered two assists in 40 Champions League appearances with United, Chelsea and Benfica respectively – chalking up 2,934 minutes in total.
Matic has played in all but one of the Reds’ seven games in the competition this term. He missed the final Group A match against CSKA Moscow but did set up a goal in the 2-0 win over his former club Benfica at Old Trafford on matchday four, when his long-range shot hit a post and found the net after striking unfortunate teenage goalkeeper Mile Svilar.
He has made six appearances in the knockout stages of the Champions League and boasts an impressive passing accuracy of 89 per cent, completing 400 of his 447 attempted passes while covering 60.5km in distance – showing he can be a key player in dictating the tempo and keeping possession.
Matic has been knocked out on the last two occasions he has reached the last-16 stage – both at the hands of French giants Paris Saint-Germain during his second spell at Chelsea, who lost 3-2 on aggregate in 2015/16 after going out on away goals following a 3-3 draw over two legs in 2014/15.
But the Serbian went all the way to the semi-finals with the Blues in 2013/14, where they were knocked out by Atletico Madrid, and advanced to the quarter-finals with Benfica in 2011/12 before Chelsea ended that run with a 3-1 win on aggregate.
Even when he went out at the group stage of the Champions League with Benfica in the autumn of 2012, he returned to Chelsea the following January and helped them to win the Europa League under Rafael Benitez.
He’s an experienced figure with plenty of European pedigree which, given the key position in which he operates in the engine room, could be pivotal for the Reds if we are to make further progress in the competition.
MATIC: AN FA CUP WINNER
Prior to this season, the midfielder has been part of four previous FA Cup campaigns and has only ever made 10 appearances in the competition – one of which came in the last round in the Reds’ 2-0 win at Huddersfield Town. However, it’s worth noting that he spent three years in Portugal with Benfica between January 2011 and January 2014.
Despite racking up just 716 minutes of FA Cup football, he has managed to get his hands on the famous trophy before, after being part of the Chelsea team which won the tournament in his first spell in west London in 2009/10, by virtue of beating Portsmouth 1-0 in the Wembley final.
Matic almost added to that success last season when helping the Blues reach another final, scoring a thunderbolt from 30 yards in the 4-2 semi-final win over Tottenham in the process. But the Serbian had to settle for a runners-up medal after a 2-1 defeat by Arsenal, in which he played 61 minutes.
Ahead of the Reds’ quarter-final tie with Brighton, Matic has experience of reaching the last eight in each of the last two seasons, having also done so in 2015/16 before Chelsea’s run was ended by a 2-0 defeat at Everton. He also advanced to the fifth round in 2013/14, when the Blues were knocked out away to Manchester City by the same scoreline.
A previous winner of the competition, Nemanja will undoubtedly be keen to taste success at Wembley again and, after going so close last term, he may have an added determination to do so.
'I'm proud to have a street in my name'Video
‘EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE’
As mentioned above, the Reds are still battling on three fronts, in a bid to add to the three trophies claimed in Jose Mourinho’s maiden season in charge in 2016/17.
Matic knows what it’s like to win major trophies in his career and insists the team are determined to enjoy a successful end to the campaign.
“For sure, I’m always positive,” he declared.
“I know that in the league the gap is too big, but we have to fight until the end, and we also have Champions League, FA Cup, there are many things we have to do. I’m sure we’ll give our best, 100 per cent we will stay focused until the end. Who knows what can happen in football? Everything is possible.”
He went on:
“I try to do my best for the team and for the club, and I hope the supporters and the club are happy with my work. I will continue to work hard to improve, and we will see at the end of the season where we are. But, as I said, I will try to give my best, not try to, I will give my best, and we will see if that’s going to be enough.”