Although he made his official ‘second debut’ by coming on late in the game against Manchester United, Nemanja Matic started against Stoke City in the FA Cup tie this Sunday and, very much as he should I guess, looked right at home.
For Jose Mourinho, and indeed for the club, Chelsea lavishing some £21million on a player that they had valued at less than a quarter of that figure only three years ago was always going to be a bit of a gamble. It’s the sort of deal that can cause a wry smile if it comes off, but howls of laughter from opposing fans if it doesn’t. If Sunday is an illustration of the potential value of Matic to Chelsea’s pursuit of trophies however, it will quickly look like a sound investment.
The position in front of the back four has been a troubling one since Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge, with a number of players deployed with varying amounts of success. Mikel has been a longterm if less than totally convincing player in the role, and adapting Frank Lampard to play there has been good in parts, but mainly only when he pursues his natural instinct to roam further forward. Ramires has been perhaps the most successful in the role for the club, and even centre-back David Luiz has played there despite Mourinho saying that he wouldn’t. Now however, the problem may well be on the way to being solved.
As Mourinho wasn’t involved in the deal that saw Matic depart to Benfica in the transfer that brought Luiz to Stamford Bridge, bringing him back carries no embarrassment for the Portuguese. And if Matic continues to blossom in front of the back four, showing how much of a mistake it was to let him go, Mourinho will no doubt be pleased to have solved the problem.
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