Talking Tactics

Matic adds new dimension to Man Utd

4 Sep 2017
Premier League Nemanja Matic

Adrian Clarke on how the summer signing from Chelsea has changed the game at Old Trafford

While he is not finished as a Manchester United player, the club’s search for the “next Michael Carrick” feels like it has been going on for several seasons.

In the 36-year-old’s absences from their starting XI, the United midfield has often lacked the control Carrick provides, his positional discipline, and high-quality passing range.

Nemanja Matic, United’s summer signing from Chelsea, is a central midfielder who brings all those qualities, allied with great physical power.

So they have finally found somebody who is perfectly equipped to take over the mantle.

It is the Serb’s quality on the ball, coupled with understated athleticism that has immediately caught the eye at Old Trafford.

Covering more distance than any other United player in all matches so far, Matic has served up quality distribution and reliable defensive cover.

Moving around the pitch at a speed that’s helped to quicken up United’s play, fewer holes are appearing in the heart of the pitch, but not to the detriment of the team’s attacks.

How Matic and Carrick compare 

  Matic 17/18 Carrick 16/17
Distance per 90 11.73km 10.81km
Average speed 7.42 km/h 7.42 km/h
Pass accuracy 88.4% 89%
Passes per 90 75 71

In truth, judging Matic’s off-the-ball work is not easy because United have dominated all three Premier League matches to date.

However, it should be noted he did retrieve possession more often than any of his new team-mates in both home matches.

With nine tackles (seven successful) he has also racked up the highest number by a United player this term.

Premier League - Swansea City vs Manchester United
Nemanja Matic's arrival has freed up Paul Pogba to push further forward for United

There has been plenty of discussion on how Matic’s forceful style and defensive diligence allows Paul Pogba to push forward with greater regularity and early impressions suggests that appears to be the case.

In encounters where United exercise a lot of control, spending most of their time inside the opposition half, Matic has the ingredients to cover Pogba’s forward bursts.

It is a real positive to have the Frenchman using his creative powers more often inside the final third.

But stiffer tests will examine their credentials as a duo.

When they come up against rivals who offer more attacking power, the patterns we have witnessed will have to change - it would be reckless for Matic to be the sole anchor in the heart of United’s central midfield.

So when those big matches come round Jose Mourinho must decide whether to limit Pogba’s attack-minded ambitions, use him as a No 10 in the same 4-2-3-1, or switch to a midfield three with Matic at the base.

I suspect the latter is what we’ll see when United face their toughest tests.

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