Friday 24 November 2017

Matic back with Blues after Benfica finishing school

Chelsea have completed the purchase of Nemanja Matic from Benefica
Chelsea have completed the purchase of Nemanja Matic from Benefica

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Chelsea have completed the purchase of Nemanja Matic from Benfica for a fee of €25m (£20.75m) three years after selling him in the opposite direction.

The Serbian midfielder signed a five-and-a-half-year deal and will have a crucial role as Chelsea try to secure their first Premier League title since 2010. He admits the chance to work with the "best coach in the world" was too good an opportunity to turn down.

"I had other offers, but Mourinho is Mourinho," Matic said. "It's exciting to work with him, he is the best coach in the world and I want to work with him for a long time. I am ready. We have already spoken, he said to be professional, to give my best for the team.

"First, I want to play and help the team to win the Premier League and if it's possible to play in and win the Champions League in the future (Matic is cup-tied in this year's competition). I want to win titles here."

While many say that Mourinho's squad most obviously lacks centre-forwards, their lack of quality in front of the back four is also problematic. The arrival of Matic, vastly improved as a player after his spell in Portugal, should help with that.

LOANED

During Matic's first spell at Chelsea -- he arrived from MFK Kosice soon after his 21st birthday -- he made just three substitute appearances and clearly did not feature highly in Carlo Ancelotti's plans. Matic was loaned out to Vitesse Arnhem, then used as a makeweight in the deal to sign David Luiz from Benfica, along with £20m.

Matic developed so much during his time in Portugal that he now justifies his big-money price tag and is certain to improve Chelsea's midfield.

When Matic arrived at Benfica, he was used to playing in central or even attacking midfield, but usually found Javi Garcia ahead of him in the pecking order.

But in the summer of 2012 Benfica sold Garcia to Manchester City and Axel Witsel to Zenit St Petersburg, and needed a new defensive midfielder. Matic was drafted into the role and instantly showed his class, helping Benfica to forget about Garcia quickly.

Last season was Matic's true breakthrough, as he helped Benfica to a second-place league finish, one point behind Porto, the final of the Europa League, which they lost to Chelsea in stoppage-time, and the semi-final of the Portuguese cup. Despite winning no trophies, Matic took the Portuguese Player of the Year prize.

Close observers of Matic in Portugal speak very warmly of his performances and claim the €25m fee is cheap for a player who could have been sold for €35m or more. One Portuguese reporter described Matic as "like (Michael) Essien with skills" and there is certainly a confidence that he will improve Chelsea's midfield options.

Frank Lampard is not as sharp as he used to be, while John Obi Mikel has had a quiet season. Some authority and class in central midfield is just what Chelsea need.

Ramires is the first choice there, but is often moved wide into a 4-3-3 system for difficult away games, a process Matic would help with.

Mourinho, who has not worked with Matic before, said he was delighted to have the player in his squad for the second half of the season.

"I am very pleased that Nemanja is returning to Chelsea," he said. "He has grown as a player in Portugal and has become a fantastic all-round midfielder. I am sure he will become a very important member of the squad."

Matic was also delighted to be back at Chelsea, where he will be eligible for Premier League and FA Cup games this season but not for the Champions League due to his participation in the European competition with Benfica.

Asked whether he was a similar character to his compatriot Branislav Ivanovic, Matic replied: "I am a quiet, family guy, but then I think he is also.

"Maybe he is a little bit crazy! I am a simple guy, most of the time I am with my family, my wife and my son. I like to be with them and they make me happy." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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