Matic addresses old problems, but exposes others

Posted by Phil Lythell

Chelsea have made a significant splash in the transfer window with the signing of Nemanja Matic from Benfica.

The acquisition has raised more than a few eyebrows, not least due to the fact that the Blues have paid a fee of £21 million, according to the Portuguese giants, for a player that they had initially valued for as little as £3 million just three years ago. Matic was the makeweight in the deal that brought David Luiz from the Estadio da Luz to Stamford Bridge when the midfielder was seen as promising, but not sufficiently so to break into the Chelsea midfield at that time. Since then, his stock has soared and his reputation has flourished having filled the void in Benfica's team following the departures of Axel Witsel and Javi Garcia to Zenit St Petersburg and Manchester City, respectively.

- Report: Matic: I am going to Chelsea
- Worrall: In Mourinho we trust

This turn of events obviously calls into question Chelsea's policy regarding their young talents which they accumulate at a prodigious rate, yet fail to integrate into the first team with any real success. Josh McEachran was one of the players supposedly standing ahead of Matic in the pecking order prior to the Serbian international's move to Benfica, though his development has not been as rapid as some would have hoped.

As irony would have it, McEachran has just returned to Chelsea from an injury-hit loan spell at Watford just in time to see Matic come back to the club for a handsome transfer fee; only this time it will be the Englishman who will find his route to the first team blocked. At 20 years of age, there is still plenty of time for McEachran to deliver on the outstanding promise that he showed when he broke into the senior team three years ago, but whether that will be at his current club or not remains to be seen.

Another surprising element of this transfer is in reflecting on Jose Mourinho's insistence that Chelsea were not in the market for any new players in the middle of the season. The Special One's penchant for misinformation, however, has been a feature of this campaign. Other attempts to throw opposition and journalists off the scent have included his publicly vehement objections to fielding Luiz in midfield, a tactic he has employed twice in the past three league games since those repeated utterances.

Or it could be looked at another way: Perhaps the fact that Mourinho has felt compelled to play the Brazilian in that part of pitch against his own better judgement has forced his hand. Luiz has performed well in those outings against Liverpool and Hull City, though it would be hard to say that he is a natural in that role just yet. Excellent with the ball at his feet, strangely it has been the positional aspect of his game that has been a little ragged. His desire and pace have generally compensated for that lack of nous, though he is still some distance from being the complete defensive midfielder.

Luiz's deficiencies in midfield were brought into stark contrast in last season's Europa League final when his opposite number was none other than Matic. As the Blues struggled to get a foothold in the game in the opening 45 minutes in Amsterdam, the man helping to snuff out any Chelsea forays and in turn construct attacking moves from deep was Benfica's imposing midfielder. It was a lesson in how to play the game as the anchor in front of the back four, and more than a few Chelsea supporters that day commented that he was exactly what their team was missing.

The arrival of Matic will bolster a key area of the squad that has not really been addressed in the last couple of years. Ramires and Frank Lampard have filled in admirably; however, both prefer getting forward rather than holding their position. The signing will relieve the pressure on them both and allow them to play their natural games. John Obi Mikel could be forgiven for being a little disappointed that a direct rival is joining the club, though competition for places should always be welcomed within a squad that is striving to be successful.

At 6-foot, 4-inches tall, Matic will also provide a physical totem in the middle of the pitch, a dominant presence that the Blues have lacked since the heyday of Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Lampard. He will add greater power to the midfield to counter balance the more wispy attackers further forward and will further harden the soft-centre that had grown evident over the past couple of seasons.

Of course, starring in the Portuguese League is a far cry from doing the same in the Premier League, but with Matic joining a club he already knows very well, any adaptation period should pass very quickly. He could even make his second debut against Manchester United -- the team he reportedly snubbed in favour of Chelsea -- and a good display in that titanic struggle on Sunday would set off his new stint at Chelsea on the best possible path.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell


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