Friday 17 January 2014
The return of Nemanja Matic to Chelsea from Benfica is the final piece of Jose Mourinho's jigsaw at Chelsea, according to an expert on Portuguese football.
"He's a defensive midfielder who can not only win the ball but actually pass it effectively as well"
The 26-year-old Serb signed a five-and-a-half-year deal with Chelsea this week, three years after leaving the west London club for Lisbon and Andy Brassell, who has been reporting on Portuguese football for the last 10 years, told premierleague.com believes the player has all the credentials to flourish in the Barclays Premier League.
"It's been quite apparent for the last year and a half that he's someone Chelsea could do with because he's the one piece they're missing; a solid defensive holder," Brassell says. "Defining him like that undercuts him a little, though, because he's technically very good as well. He's a really good passer, he can actually bring the ball out. He's a defensive midfielder who can not only win the ball but pass it effectively as well.
Matic joined Benfica after playing only two matches in the Barclays Premier League with Chelsea, as part of the deal in which David Luiz moved in the other direction. But his rise at Benfica was not immediate.
"It took a while for him to become important for Benfica," Brassell says. "What made him is when Javier Garcia left for Manchester City and Axel Witsel left for Zenit St Petersburg in the summer of 2012, because that completely destroyed Benfica's midfield. At the time he was thought of as a reasonable squad player but they threw him in because they had no one else and he impressed.
"He also had a more difficult role in the team than Garcia, whom he nominally replaced, because with the departure of Garcia and Witsel at the same time, Benfica started playing with one man in front of the defence not two, arguably giving Matic a lot more work to do. But he made it look easy.
"He developed quickly because he's a very dedicated trainer and a dedicated professional and because he has that hunger from having had to wait for so long for his chance, firstly at Chelsea and then at Benfica."
"He's not going to be hustled off the ball which is very, very important in the Premier League"
As for whether Matic will be able to adapt to life back in the Barclays Premier League, starting with the visit of Manchester United on Sunday, Brassell is confident Matic will be smoothly integrated, thanks mainly to his physical strength and the conditioning of Jorge Jesus's team at Benfica, from where Ramires and David Luiz quickly adapted to life at Stamford Bridge.
"The fact they can cope with the physical side of it so quickly shows how fit Jorge Jesus gets his players and that will be immensely helpful," Brassell says. "Matic is capable on the ball and he's got that power as well. He's not going to be hustled off the ball which is very, very important in the Premier League. He's good in the air as well, because he's absolutely massive, standing 6ft 4in.
"And the fact he's been at Chelsea before and he knows the ropes at the club is very important, too."
There have been suggestions that Matic will be a long-term replacement for Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge and while Brassell believes the Serb shares an unassuming personality with the England midfielder with a similar work ethic, their roles and strengths on the pitch are different.
"Lampard has been moved back into a position as one of two midfielders who sit deep, which is unfamiliar to him and perhaps not ideal for him," Brassell says. "Matic, on the other hand, is totally cut out for that because he's a tackler. He loves doing the dirty stuff, he'll do whatever the manager wants and he won't complain.
"He's a really grounded, down-to-earth personality. Even with all this speculation that was surrounding him saying that he was going to go to Chelsea he dismissed reports that he might not play in the Classico against Porto on for fear of getting injured by going out there for his final match in a Benfica shirt and getting stuck in and being the man of the match by a mile as Benfica won 2-0."
While Matic is set to be a big miss for Benfica, he appears well-suited to adapt to life under Mourinho, who takes pride in his players’ physical and mental strength.
"Nemanja played 60-odd games last season and he was as good in the last one as he was in the first," Brassell. "You could say that maybe no one was expecting him to play more than 25-30 games at the start of the season but that he performed 55-60 at a great level just goes to show how mentally strong he is as well.
"He's just turned 26, and he realises that this is his time now. He doesn't want to waste any time, he just wants to get on with it and play and play and play."