It was not Manchester United’s 4-0 win against Norwich that showed that Nemanja Matic is semi-important again, but his arrival in last Wednesday’s humiliating loss to Manchester City.
The Serbian looked certain to leave Old Trafford in this January transfer window but injuries to Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba mean he’s needed once again. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must learn from the previous overuse of Matic to ensure he remains useful.
Matic, a £40 million signing under Jose Mourinho in 2017, has played in all of United’s last five matches. It’s a dangerous precedent.
The main reason for a collection of woeful performances from the ex-Chelsea midfielder was too many games in too short a time.
Mourinho gave Matic 49 appearances in his first season at United, and that number went down to 38 games in the 2018/19 transition campaign between Mourinho and Solskjaer.
Matic can play one game a week during injury crisis
When he plays one game a week, Matic can be useful. But he was burnt out in his first season at the club, played through injury and delayed a necessary operation. It left him as a slow and unreliable player in central midfield.
He made mistakes, gave away possession and couldn’t cover the defence properly. That’s why he’s been mainly non-existent in Solskjaer’s first full season in charge at United.
But injuries necessitate changes. Matic is still not good enough to be in United’s first-choice midfield and he still should be offloaded in the summer. Solskjaer has to see him as a reluctant back-up option.
Nevertheless, he can offer some quality. When rested, as he was going into games against Burnley, Norwich and others, Matic has added something United are missing.
Fred and Andreas Pereira cannot cope as a midfield pairing. But a rested Matic is playing at a quicker pace than we’ve seen before.
He covered the defence well against Burnley, and his aerial ability, far superior to that of Fred or Pereira, was crucial against the Clarets’ strikeforce of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes. Matic helped to protect Victor Lindelof, whose aerial weakness is renowned.
Solskjaer must not overplay Matic
Solskjaer has to be careful now. Any more than one game a week for Matic and he could quickly return to the hapless yet experienced midfielder contributing to embarrassing defeats.
Recently he has been good enough. If it can continue, that will help United to survive their midfield injury crisis. But overplaying Matic would be another step back in a season where they’ve been blown back by a hurricane of various circumstances.
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