Although it is pretty much a cliché these days, its indeed exciting times to be Blue. Its Jose’s second year back and we all know how the “Jose Mourinho Second Season Syndrome” always plays out…but let’s not jinx it by dwelling too long on that. At the start of the season, a lot of the media attention as well as of the fans like myself centered on our new Spanish duo, Francesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. Well not that such attention could be begrudged, they were arguably the best signings of the summer transfer window in the EPL, coming off the back of a collectively woeful performance by Spain at the World Cup and with big price tags too. So there was all to prove although some could argue that Cesc was well accustomed to the EPL and that Costa was Didier 2.0 so they would fit in but we all know football isn’t so straightforward. Thankfully they have justified and are still justifying their price-tags.
It’s the festive period again and we are top of the league and still contesting on four fronts. It’s a pretty precarious stage in the season and depending on Jose’s handling of the squad in terms of rotation and motivation, we could either still be on course for an unprecedented quadruple or the wind could have been well and truly knocked out of our sails. Of course every member of the squad is very important but sometimes as it often is in football as well as in life, some are more important than others. In my opinion, there are is one player we cannot afford to lose to injuries this season or else our early season momentum could be lost as fast as it was gained.
So who really is this “real pivot”? Nemanja Matic. To be honest, I was one of those absolutely perplexed by the decision to let Matic leave as part of the David Luiz transfer back in 2012. Although I had only seen him play once at the time. I was so impressed I had dubbed him the natural replacement for Michael Ballack at the time. I wasn’t so surprised when Jose went all out for him last winter because Matic is what I would like to refer to as the new Essien of this Jose revolution. Tough tackler, tactically astute, has good range of passing and even scores goals also. Essien was the enforcer in the team after Makelele had brought more of an edge to that defensive/central midfield position. It appears that Jose has gone for another upgrade as Matic brings even more to the table.
Evidence of Matic’s importance to the team can be seen in the loss to Newcastle. Watching the video of the game, it’s obvious that as the longer the game stayed at 0-0 the more we pushed forward in search of a goal and Pardew sensed that and sent on Papiss Cisse who has always had a good record against us, and knew how to position himself better when Newcastle came at us on the counter. His gamble worked a treat and whenever Newcastle came at us, the static Mikel could not keep up and Cisse was able to score twice, taking advantage of the space and panic within the defence.
It’s not a coincidence that our defence has always seemed more assured and calm. JT isn’t getting any younger and it’s slightly showing as he is forced to play deeper. With Matic ahead of him, he doesn’t necessarily have to do as much defensively because of Matic’s terrier-like approach to protecting our back four. The alternatives; Mikel whom I believe is quite good but hasn’t developed his game and isn’t mobile enough and Rami; who isn’t as tactical disciplined as Matic or as physical, do not bring that same assuredness to the table. Keeping Nemanja Matic fit and firing should be Jose’s priority if we are to achieve this dream of a quadruple. We have the team to do it and the manager to do it as well as the motivation of the fans to rub it in the face of all the naysayers who say we have got no history.