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Three Scenarios: How does Nemanja Matic fit in at Manchester United?

Manchester United transfer news has been littered in recent days with the assertion that Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic will be reuniting with Jose Mourinho by joining United this week. While he isn’t a flattering signing and it’s suspicious that the Premier League Champions would sell their starting midfielder to a rival on all four fronts, United is drawing a player who was arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.

Matic is more versatile than he appears, a very good passer and protector of the back four, and the type of industrial player who would (finally) give Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba the license to wreak havoc on the Premier League. Perhaps a more defensively apt version of Michael Carrick, he has very good distance shooting and ball-winning proficiency, if not the same spectacular passing range.

Perhaps he declined around the beginning of 2015, but this could be more in relation to Cesc Fabregas’ drastic drop in form at the turn of the year, a feature that he is known for, and the lack of cover Matic had as a result. With the likes of Herrera and Pogba available around him, he’ll likely be in for a good United tenure in many systems, perhaps including the following.

The Expected Scenario: Matic the pivot in a dynamic midfield

Everyone expects Matic to be United’s midfield pivot behind star players Herrera and Pogba, and this system works for a variety of reasons. Earlier in Mourinho’s debut campaign, United played a 4-3-3 formation with Michael Carrick offered one simple (but difficult) task at the base of midfield- winning the ball and distributing it quickly.

This worked as the effective simplicity of Carrick’s forward passing, combined with his ability to screen the defence behind Herrera’s dirty work. However, playing more and more games as United’s reliance on the English veteran increased, Carrick became worse and worse, eventually struggling to perform the role as United’s best period of the season came to a swift end.

Matic would be perfectly suited to playing this role and would find playing behind Pogba and Herrera- as opposed to Cesc Fabregas and Oscar at Chelsea- a much easier defensive task, given Herrera and Pogba’s already outstanding defensive ability. He’d be able to transform the system to a 3-4-3 by dropping into the back four, as well as become a threat from set-pieces while Herrera covers for him.

The Second String Midfield That Doesn’t Include Marouane Fellaini Scenario

United reached a period in April last season when Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba were both out, and the second string was constituted by a fatigued Michael Carrick (as aforementioned), and Marouane Fellaini. This midfield offered exactly nothing that Herrera and Pogba did in United’s 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3 at this point in the season.

Fellaini is never an orthodox central midfielder, and even attempting to make him a Paul Pogba understudy is an insult to both Fellaini (who has abilities of his own) and Pogba (one of the most gifted footballers in England). Carrick is a United great, but not even remotely close to Herrera in quality at this moment in time.

Thoughts have emerged that Matic could be signed alongside another midfielder, and with Andreas Pereira returning from loan, he could serve as a potential Pogba understudy from a creative perspective. This midfield wouldn’t be identical to Herrera and Pogba by any means, but it would allow Pereira, who has key experience from his loan this season, to be creatively free and aggressive, alongside Matic, taller, calmer, and more of a defensive presence.

These attributes are all represented in a Herrera-Pogba axis already, and while one could argue that Timothy Fosu-Mensah or Axel Tuanzebe could have a similar impact in midfield, Matic has experience at the highest level, which Mourinho loves, and to be fair, will be needed if Herrera and Pogba are absent in the Champions League latter stages. Pereira, with a full season of La Liga football under his belt, would also fit this billing.

The Revamped Scenario: Signing Two Midfielders?

United has been heavily linked with Fabinho in recent weeks, and many have made the assumption that he won’t be joining this summer if Matic makes the switch. Eric Dier is another name that has been linked, albeit less prominently. Both players offer their merits in other positions as well as defensive midfield, meaning the signing of Matic could free a bigger midfield signing to allow them the keys to be a superb midfielder.

United’s unique system against Chelsea featured Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba in a midfield duo, with Ander Herrera man-marking Eden Hazard. Matic, dominant in the air and a much better overall midfielder than Fellaini, could be the replacement for the Belgian (allowing him to move exclusively to attacking midfield), with Fabinho coming in to replace Carrick.

This would allow United to start matches in various shapes, including a midfield diamond, in which Herrera led the pressing with Pogba (adept from the left) and Fabinho (adept from the right) covering the flanks defensively, very similarly to Juventus in 2015. It would also allow United to have quality in midfield and for once not have to force them onto the pitch.

Conclusion

Matic may not be the dream signing, but he could be the industrious addition United have needed instead of Carrick and Fellaini, allowing Herrera and Pogba creative freedom, and potentially even paving the way for more luxurious United signings to have a good tenure at Old Trafford. The price of the deal may be excessive, but seeing what Matic can offer on the pitch and the potential value of his presence at key moments of the season, he would likely prove to be more than worth the investment.

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