In hindsight, the decision to let him go in January 2011 will go down in the annals of Chelsea’s history as one of their poorer ones. However, signing Nemanja Matic back for more than 20 times the price he was let go for (initially scoffed at and rightly so) is turning out to be one of the best buys in their history. TheHardTackle looks at the rise and rise of the Serbian international this season and see if he really does deserve the player of the year award.

It cannot be a co-incidence that the only game Matic missed in the Premier League, turned out to be the only game that Chelsea have lost this season. A perfect case for absence making the heart grow fonder, Chelsea fans began to realise the work the Serb does in the middle of midfield. Make no mistake about it though, his replacement John Obi Mikel has been a star player for Chelsea over the years but now it seems he is not in the same class as Matic.

A host of pundits including Gary Neville, Ray Parlour and Phil Neville have heaped praise on Matic recently with regards to his importance in the Chelsea side. Not only has he been a defensive rock in the middle for Chelsea but also has been more than adept at linking play between attack and defence.

Perhaps that is why his passing accuracy is around 88% this season. Compare this to the likes of Philip Lahm and Sergio Busquets who have a passing success rate of 90% tells you why he is so highly rated. In that very match against Newcastle which Matic missed, Mikel missed all of his 6 attempted tackles and was at fault for Newcastleai??i??s second goal having been caught out of position. As opposed to this against Stoke City ai??i?? a match in which he partnered Mikel in the defensive midfield position ai??i?? he won all 3 of his attempted tackles, had a passing accuracy of 90% and made a crucial intervention near the box when he tackled Geoff Cameron while the latter was galloping away towards goal.

Matic

Matic’s passing against Stoke City – a success rate of 88% (courtesy Squawka)

Apart from the high passing success rate, Matic has won 1 out of every 2 tackles he has got into, played almost every minute of all League games (when not suspended) and has a relatively low yellow-card-to-game-ratio of 5 in 16 League games (1 booking every 3 games). Often given the task of marking strikers, the latter factoid becomes quite impressive. Also, averaging at around 10 kilometers a game, Matic has proven to be a tireless runner who commands much of his territory with fearsome might.

Another reason why Mourinho likes playing with Matic is the freedom it gives his midfield partner ai??i?? usually Cesc Fabregas ai??i?? to move up and join the attack. In more crucial away matches like against Everton or more recently Stoke City, Fabregas played as an attacking midfielder with the Serb (along with Mikel or Ramires) protecting the back four. Even otherwise, with Matic as insurance, Fabregas has been given the license to roam ahead of his position ai??i?? a contributing factor to his quality and the number of assists this season.

Matic

Matic’s heat map against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge illustrating his defensive discipline (courtesy Squawka)

Often acting as the fifth defender, Matic forms a fearsome ai???middle threeai??? along with John Terry and Gary Cahill. The English pairing has been in top form this season and with the addition of Thibaut Courtois in goal, it has only made Chelseaai??i??s rear guard stronger. Like all of Chelseaai??i??s back four, the Serb also has an eye for goal. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he started out as a striker at Benfica who was later dropped deep into midfield owing to his physical stature.

A strong, physical midfielder who is perfectly suited to the English league has been a welcome addition (re-addition?) to Chelseaai??i??s squad. Players like him, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azplilicueta who are work horses and donai??i??t necessarily get noticed are the reasons why the Blues are doing so well so far. Going by precedent, however, the player of the year award itself seems to go to the headline grabbers of the League but for most Chelsea fans, Matic seems to be right up there along with the Spanish duo of Costa and Fabregas. Although it would still be surprising if he did indeed win, the Serb will just take satisfaction from the fact that he is already being spoken of in the same breath as Lahm and Busquets ai??i?? both stalwarts in their own rights.

For Chelseaai??i??s sake, one sure hopes that they wrap him in cotton wool as the season goes on if they are to have a chance at the glory of lifting the Premier League trophy come May.

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