Man Utd player Nemanja Matic has come under criticism after his performance vs Bournemouth but remains a key figure for Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho does not do untouchables these days. Well, in theory at least. The only United player who has ever been handed that compliment is Romelu Lukaku and the out-of-form striker was dropped for the first time against Everton last month.
It was a similar story with Alexis Sanchez. United’s No.7 is the club’s highest earner, who initially set up camp on his favoured role on the left wing, but suffered the indignity of travelling to London only to be left in the stands for the defeat to West Ham earlier this season.
One of the few certainties in that period? Nemanja Matic being one of the first names on the team sheet.
The 30-year-old has only been hooked on one occasion, with his side 2-0 down against Spurs, and has played a full 90 minutes in each of his last 11 games.
Matic’s best performances this season have come alongside Marouane Fellaini in midfield, giving United’s leaky defence some much-needed protection, but he has looked a little exposed without the Belgian in recent weeks – in and out of possession.
Whether it is by design or instruction, David de Gea often goes long as Mourinho does not trust his defenders to build from the back.
The United boss said as much when he took the bold decision to play Paul Pogba in a deeper role, which sparked that remarkable comeback against Newcastle.
That has had a knock-on effect on Matic as the man tasked with holding the fort and building United’s attacks at the same time.
Forget dictating the tempo or taking fewer touches in possession, though; Matic has struggled to track runs like he used to and has had trouble keeping tabs on Paulo Dybala and stopping David Brooks in recent weeks.
That is what made him one of the Premier League’s best defensive midfielders and convinced Mourinho to re-sign the Serbian at Chelsea and United. But he can’t do it alone anymore.
Mourinho remains loyal to Matic and, tellingly, it was Fred, a player who pressed and harried against Bournemouth, who was substituted in the second-half at the Vitality Stadium.
Again, Matic completed a full 90 minutes and do not expect him to be handed a rest anytime soon. The towering midfielder played through the pain barrier in the Manchester derby in December and has rarely had a breather ever since.
Since the World Cup, he has had abdominal and back injuries but was parachuted back in whenever possible as Mourinho struggles to find the right balance in midfield.
Mourinho started the season with an attacking trident of Andreas Pereira, Fred and Paul Pogba but that experiment was abandoned after the trio were overrun down at Brighton.
Hence why Mourinho quickly brought the returning Fellaini and Matic back into the fold as he looked to replicate the stable formula of last season.
“The approach was much more defensive and with a much more defensive approach you can hide better your weaknesses so when the team is really defensive and you have a more defensive minded and you base the work on that, then the team doesn’t develop enough in other areas but the team managed to get some results based on that,” he told reporters after the 2-1 win against Bournemouth.
“I’m trying to find the balance where we develop the team in the second and third phase of attack and we develop the players, the talented players that we have, without losing the balance.
“When we are in control, we have no problems. When the opponent is in trouble, the team has problems.”
United fans have made their feelings clear, particularly after Ander Herrera’s game-changing cameo from the bench on Saturday, but it seems Mourinho will hold off taking Matic out of the firing line.
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