Nemanja Matic yet another beneficiary of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era
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Nemanja Matic always was a Jose Mourinho favourite. It was the self-proclaimed Special One who lured the Serbian first to Stamford Bridge, then to Old Trafford.
Perhaps nobody epitomises a Mourinho-led side more than Matic. Physically tough yet somewhat reserved when going forward, tall in stature with a defence-first mindset. That was until Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge...
Towards the end of the Mourinho tenure, Matic looked finished. He turned like the Titanic, had about as much pace as a turtle and couldn't win a one-on-one battle with an infant. That too has dramatically been amended.
We're now looking at a player who has been given a new lease of life, like so many others within that United dressing room. You may look at a reborn Paul Pogba or a fit-and-firing Marcus Rashford as the biggest reform. I'd like to add Matic's name to that list. Even Mourinho's most loyal servant is basking in the glory of the 56-year-old's shadow, which is as damning as it gets for the former Red Devils boss.
Now 30, at the season's start, it seemed as though Matic had lost a step. Many were calling for him to be dropped. At the time, that decision would have been justified. Instead, the Serbian has kept working hard and become undroppable under Solskjaer. In my eyes, the defensive midfielder will always be the unsung hero. It's the key position in any top-class team. Matic has played more minutes than anyone under the new regime. That alone tells you how vital he has become.
In any game, Matic making more forward passes than Paul Pogba is mightily impressive. His mindset has changed, even the defensive-midfielder is being given freedom to get forward and join in on the attack. He has still been his brilliant, intelligent self when United are trying to fend off opposing attacks, though.
Positionally, he is more than aware. I liken him to a Michael Carrick in that regard. I recently read something about Matic and the art of not needing to tackle. He's so tactically astute that he often forces the enemy into mistakes due to his cleverness, determination and grit. That simply cannot be taught, it's a natural gift.
The Leicester City away game was by far Matic's best this term. The Foxes are always going to threaten. They've some super attacking footballers with a really gifted midfield in behind them feeding the ball. Although they had their moments, Matic was always in control of the situation. He read the danger then duly dealt with the issue on multiple occasions, before getting his team heading in the right direction once again. If we see more of the same, the talk of him being amongst the best holding midfielders in the country will once again start up.
I guess the only real concern that United have in regards to Matic is the fact that there isn't a real alternative. Marouane Fellaini was perhaps the next best thing but he's now gone, while Andreas Pereira just doesn't look good enough. If the Red Devils progress into the latter stages of the Champions League and the FA Cup. That's a huge amount of games that could take its toll on an ageing body. God forbid he suffer serious injury, United would be dead in the water.