Manchester United’s return to form in 2020 has been largely credited to late January arrival Bruno Fernandes.
But even before Fernandes signed, United were beginning to improve, and Nemanja Matic was a big reason why.
United beat City 2-0 across the 135 minutes of the Carabao Cup semi-final he played. He even scored one.
The problem was that Matic was left out of the first 45 minutes of this two-legged cup tie, and United conceded three goals.
The team’s struggle without him and change when he played, encapsulated how important he is to this United team.
Stating his case
Competition in midfield at United has stepped up a notch with Paul Pogba’s return from injury.
Scott McTominay too was returning to form and beginning to make a case for himself. So Matic is aware he is not guaranteed to start United’s return match away at Tottenham – even though he probably should.
Yesterday Matic found a way to state his case. He posted a graphic on Instagram highlighting how United are clearly a superior team with him in the line up.
United win 59 per cent of games Matic starts, versus 38 per cent without him. That’s over the course of the past three seasons since his £40 million move.
It was a not so subtle message to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, saying ‘pick me’.
Some may feel it is unkind of Matic to throw his teammates under the bus while talking himself up. The Serbian simply wants to win.
At the start of the season much of the conversation centred around Matic being too slow, or lacking the fitness required, after a poor end to the 2018/19 season.
After recovering from an early injury, United have seen the best of Matic, and have been managing him carefully, rotating where possible to avoid him playing in two games a week.
With a fully fit squad, United have the capability to keep on doing this, yet for the games that really matter, Matic is likely to start, until somebody else makes an irresistible case of their own.
He was recently rewarded with a new contract extension, which suggests United are fully aware of just how important he is.
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