Nemanja Matic may only have played 45 minutes of pre-season football but the 29-year-old’s impressive fitness levels meant that he could walk straight into the starting line-up and last a full 90 minutes against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday night.
The former Chelsea man was one of few players to come away from the game having impressed, with his steel in midfield being a key part of Jose Mourinho’s game plan. A makeshift defence saw Chris Smalling, Daley Blind and Victor Lindelof feature at the heart of defence, regularly supported by Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia. However, Matic often sat deep to protect them.
He did exactly that, and did an excellent job of marshaling the threat of Real Madrid. Karim Benzema, Isco and Gareth Bale all frequently dropped in behind, trying to exploit the space in front of the back four but Matic was there time and time again to deny them any opportunity to get on the ball. With four tackles, two interceptions and a clearance, it was a busy evening for the midfielder.
Matic also played a key role in the transition between defence and attack, looking to spray balls forward and wide from a deeper role. With the highest pass completion ratio of his team, with 87.8%, he did so effectively. He also made more passes than any of his team-mates, with his 49 substantially more than the next highest, Henrikh Mkhitaryan on 38. That just reflects how Matic dictated the tempo and flow of the game.
He also looked to break forward himself when possible, with it being his shot from distance which stung the gloves of Keylor Navas and was spilled into Romelu Lukaku’s path to grab a goal that gave the Red Devils a faint hope of a comeback.
Given the circumstances, it was a hugely impressive debut from the Serbian. Jose Mourinho will have been encouraged by Matic’s display and there will be a real belief that £40 million could prove to be a bargain.