Last season, Nemanja Matic was virtually undroppable in his debut campaign at Old Trafford.
The £40m signing from Chelsea offered Jose Mourinho everything he wanted from his holding midfielder; discipline, consistency, physicality and efficiency.
2017/18 saw both Mourinho and Matic take big steps towards recovering from the battering their respective reputations got in the Blues’ nightmare 2015/16 campaign.
Mourinho’s meltdown and December sacking is well-remembered, but Matic was abysmal throughout that campaign. He looked slow and sloppy; powerless to stop midfield runners causing Chelsea all sorts of problems.
History repeating itself
This time around, both men are again enduring nightmare campaigns. Once more, Mourinho’s struggles have been much more public, but Matic’s form has fallen off a cliff.
Matic is as close to an on-pitch embodiment of Mourinho as it is possible to get at United right now. He is the Portuguese’s most trusted lieutenant but as the club once again goes through a rocky period, Matic is letting his manager down with his performance level.
The Serbian international has been nowhere near the required level throughout the season; perhaps the surgery that disrupted his pre-season is a factor.
But against Juventus last night, Matic’s level reached a nadir. He was so cautious and ineffective in possession; so immobile and off-the-pace defensively, allowing Paulo Dybala to run off him on more than one occasion, including the winning goal.
No longer undroppable
Just how much worse does Matic have to play before Mourinho will drop him? Both Ander Herrera and big-money summer signing Fred would offer much more energy in the centre of the pitch, as well as a greater range of passing.
Matic was only ever going to be a short-term solution for United, anyway; whoever Mourinho’s successor is, whenever he is appointed, will inherit a long-standing issue at holding midfield that needs solving.
He is not producing the goods and has to be dropped for the visit of Everton on the back of last night’s horrid display. Matic epitomised United’s passive approach and major limitations in possession.
Matic’s fortunes tend to mirror Mourinho’s. If Jose is having a nightmare season, then Matic, if anything, is faring even worse.