Benfica midfielder Nemanja Matic is en-route to London today to join Chelsea Football Club in a deal reported to be worth £22million, according to a report in Portugal.
When asked whether his game for Benfica against Porto on Sunday was his last for the club, Matic replied:
“Yes, it was my last game. I want to thank all the people at the club and all the supporters. Benfica will be forever in my heart. I played here two and a half years, I gave my best in every practice, every game, and now is the right time to leave.
“I want to improve, I want to go to a better league and want to go to Chelsea, the club which I also like.
“I also thank the president of Benfica, who did everything he could to make me stay here but I have wanted to leave and insisted on leaving. I respect the effort made to keep me in the club. He and all the people of Benfica were very good to me, made me happy, but I repeat that I insisted on going out to understand that the time is right.”
While the deal is expected to be officially announced by Chelsea FC either today or tomorrow after a medical is completed, it is fair to ask why Chelsea want to once again sign Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matić, once discarded at the club as an approximately £3m makeweight to get the David Luiz deal on transfer deadline day in January 2011. In his first stint at Chelsea, Matić was not used and was not developed. Playing as a central midfielder, he could have offered options to manager Carlo Ancelotti, but at the time Michael Essien was about as healthy as any point in the past several years while Frank Lampard still featured prominently. John Obi Mikel played a critical role as well in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons for the Blues.
But since moving to Portugal, Matić has become remarkably influential in midfield at Benfica, showing great tactical flexibility and poise on the ball. Last season in Europe, the Serbian midfielder showed not only an ability to move the ball quickly and with precision, but also to defend well and provide extra physical cover for the back line, seamlessly slotting into a defensive posture when necessity required it. He is comfortable both in a box-to-box role and as a withdrawn midfielder. When playing in a withdrawn role, Matić not only serves as cover for the back four but also an effective deep lying playmaker.
Matić arrived at Chelsea during a period when the squad was not yet in transition and younger players were not being given the opportunity to excel. His play in Portugal caught the attention of Jose Mourinho, who was not at Chelsea when he was at the club previously. The difficulties the Blues have had at times in central midfield were exposed in December when Chelsea conceded three goals in consecutive away matches.
David Luiz has been given an opportunity to play in a holding midfield role recently and has been impressive. Still, Mourinho is reluctant to use him in such a role and re-acquiring Matić gives the manager the ability to use a natural midfielder in the role Luiz has been forced to play in recent weeks.
On this topic, why aren’t Manchester United trying to sign Nemanja Matic? The footballer is the type of midfielder the Red Devils are screaming out for, someone who can complement Michael Carrick and provide a key link between midfield and attack while serving in a Nicky Butt or Roy Keane-like protector role in front of the back four.
Perhaps United have plans to go sign another midfielder in this window, but if they do not, this can be seen as a missed opportunity in the transfer market. The signing, though expensive and the subject of ridicule since Chelsea previously had him on the books, will improve the Blues. The timing could not be better as Arsenal and Manchester City, Chelsea’s nearest title rivals, have just lost key members of their midfield while Mourinho’s men are getting deeper and stronger.
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