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Nemanja Matic: From midfield monster to Chelsea misfit
Last Updated: 19/01/16 2:14pm
Jose Mourinho described Nemanja Matic as Chelsea's midfield "monster" on their way to the Premier League title last season, but his remarkable fall from grace has continued under Guus Hiddink, writes Nick Wright…
Statistics don't always tell the full story but the numbers behind Nemanja Matic's performance against Everton were certainly revealing. In the 55 minutes before he was mercifully substituted by Guus Hiddink, the midfielder lost all eight of the duels and tackles in which he was involved.
It was a negligible contribution for a player whose chief responsibilities are winning possession and shielding the back four, and, by contrast, his central midfield partner John Obi Mikel won nine duels and completed five successful tackles at Stamford Bridge.
It's little wonder Mikel is now ahead of Matic in Hiddink's pecking order, and there were several moments on Saturday which underlined the Serb's struggles. His weak challenge on Romelu Lukaku allowed the Belgian to set up Everton's opening goal, and he was fortunate that Ross Barkley only struck the post after he lazily misplaced a pass in his own half a few minutes later.
Hiddink had seen enough. Matic was making his first start in four games against Everton, but he may find himself back among the substitutes against Arsenal on Super Sunday. Indeed, Chelsea's new manager has made no secret of his preference for Mikel. "He's the ideal player to bring balance to the team," he said of the Nigerian earlier this month. "John Obi can be one of the key figures in getting the balance back."
Those comments were a slap in the face to Matic, who also suffered the ignominy of being withdrawn by Mourinho just 18 minutes after coming off the bench in their 3-1 defeat to Southampton in October, and Saturday was the fourth time in 21 appearances that he has been substituted this season - something that only happened once in the whole of the last campaign.
Matic looks a shadow of the player Mourinho once described as his midfield "monster". Last season, the towering 27-year-old's midfield dominance provided the foundation for Chelsea's success, with his solidity and industry giving Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard licence to attack to devastating effect.
But since lifting the Premier League trophy in May, Matic has arguably been their worst performer. Mourinho bemoaned the 27-year-old's lack of confidence back in October, and little has changed since then. Complacency seems to have become a permanent fixture in his performances, and only Everton's Gareth Barry and West Brom's Craig Dawson have made more individual errors leading to opposition shots (four).
Errors leading to shots - Premier League 2015/16
|Player||Team||Errors leading to shots|
|Craig Dawson||West Brom||5|
Matic's inability to perform at the same level as last season has been one of the major factors behind Chelsea's slump. Without a reliable shield in front of the defence, they have gone from allowing 3.24 shots on target per game in 2014/15 to 4.64 per game this season. "If the team is not willing to defend well, or hasn't got the right balance, then you'll concede a lot of goals," noted Hiddink earlier this month.
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The Blues have consequently shipped 34 of them in 22 games. It exceeds their total for the whole of last season, and the only sides to have conceded more are Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Norwich, Newcastle and Sunderland. Without the safety net previously provided by Matic, Chelsea's attack has also been compromised.
But while Fabregas and Diego Costa have shown signs of getting back to their best with goals and assists since Hiddink's appointment, the change in manager appears to have had little effect on Matic. So what now for the midfielder?
Saturday's dismal outing suggests his partnership with Mikel does not have much of a future, and Hiddink has made it clear he would rather use the Nigerian when Fabregas moves back into a deeper role.
It seemed inconceivable that Matic's status as a key player could come under threat last season, but the signs suggest he might have to get used to a more peripheral role. From monster to misfit, Matic has his work cut out to win back his place.
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