Nemanja Matic wasn't ready to make a major impact during his first stint with Chelsea. Now, after a successful run with Benfica, he finally reached the potential he'd shown throughout his career and is ready to help the Blues chase the Premier League title.
The talented midfielder told Portuguese outlet A Bola (via ESPN) that he enjoyed his time with Benfica but was ready to challenge himself with Chelsea once again:
"It was my last game [for Benfica]," he told A Bola, referring to Sunday's 2-0 victory over Porto. "I want to thank everyone at the club and all the supporters. Benfica will be forever in my heart. I played here for two-and-a-half years—I gave my all in every training session, in every match, and now is the right time to leave.
"I want to improve and to play in a better league, and I want to go to Chelsea, a club I also love."
Chelsea confirmed the deal after Matic arrived in London to complete the transfer:
Matic arrived to Stamford Bridge in 2009 with a boatload of potential. He was still a raw talent, however, and that made it difficult for him to earn playing time. And the worst thing for a young player with so much natural skill is sitting on the bench for extended stretches.
Instead, he went out on loan to Vitesse and then joined Benfica in a deal that saw David Luiz head to Chelsea. It was a good agreement for both sides at the time with Luiz bringing stability to the Blues and Matic getting a chance to continue his development.
It worked out to perfection for the Serbian midfielder. The playing time let him to build off that strong foundation, which allowed him to finish the transition from intriguing young player to key midfielder, reigniting interest from Chelsea.
While the Blues have enjoyed a strong start to the campaign, reaching the Round of 16 in the Champions League and sitting third in the Premier League table, one thing that's been missing at time is someone to link the defense to the attacking group to jump-start attacks.
Manager Jose Mourinho has tried different combinations trying to find the right formula for consistent success, but it's been fleeting.
Matic's return should fill the void. He's capable of assuming a central role with a defensive focus, providing that connection between the defenders and the likes of an in-form Eden Hazard and Oscar.
Will Matic shift the title race in Chelsea's favor?
Chelsea have been playing well as of late. They racked up five straights wins across all competitions, allowing just one goal over that span. The Blues have enjoyed similar hot streaks earlier in the campaign, but they couldn't maintain that strong form.
Adding a stabilizing force like Matic to the mix should help the squad be more consistent down the stretch. That's exactly what it's going to take if the side is going to outlast Arsenal, Manchester City and any other title contender that may emerge in the coming months.
The margin for error is thin with so many clubs bunched near the top. Chelsea had enough talent to stay in the mix even if they didn't make any January moves, but if they do end up winning the title, there's a good chance the addition of Matic will have put them over the top.
His first stay with the club didn't go according to plan. This time, he seems like the perfect player at the perfect time for Chelsea.