As is natural when a team wins 6-0 against one of their closest rivals, the entire team shone in this weekend's performance. As usual, special credit went to the attacking force of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle, and the defence was once again rock solid, despite not having an awful lot to do.
However, one player who stood out is the very one who might just be the difference for Chelsea in the Premier League this season—Nemanja Matic.
There has been a lot of discussion around Chelsea's striker situation this season, and as a natural result of that, when the transfer window opened in January, there were a lot of calls for Chelsea to spend big on a new target man up front.
It came as somewhat of a surprise, then, when Jose Mourinho's only two signings during that period were midfielders Mohamed Salah and Matic, the latter of whom Chelsea had let go only a few years previously.
However, since his signing, Matic has quietly moved into the Chelsea first team, establishing himself as a key player for Mourinho as we move into the latter stages of the Premier League season.
Before Matic arrived, it was fair to say that John Obi Mikel had pegged down the role as defensive midfield playmaker as his own; and although that was in part a result of a lack of competition, Mikel had done fairly well in the position up until Matic's January transfer.
However, since Matic's arrival, Premier League appearances have been few and far between for Mikel, and Matic stepped in and transformed the midfield, bringing important results with it. The Serbian put in a breakout performance against Manchester City at the beginning of February, and since then he has been unflappable in front of the defence and crucial in attacking play for the Blues. Matic is just the man Chelsea need to take charge of the midfield.
Mourinho agrees; the Portuguese was quick to praise Matic after yet another excellent performance, against Arsenal on Saturday, telling Sky Sports:
He is not the kind of guy to play any square passes. He can do so and keep possession, but he can see the movement forward, look at the passing into space. He is very clean. He recovers a lot of balls in a clean way, he doesn't make fouls in dangerous positions.
Matic represents clearly the difference between Chelsea and any other team. While Man City had an Arsenal rout of their own, the Sky Blues also conceded three goals. The reason why Mourinho is such a good manager is that he realises that it is not enough to simply try to score a lot of goals and hope that it is more than the opposition team. He knows that the best offence starts with a good defence—and that both of these things start in the middle of the pitch.
Chelsea could have panicked and bought a striker out of desperation in January (and even that situation seems to have resolved itself), but now we know what Mourinho knew at that time: In Matic, they have something that is far more valuable.
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