After four Premier League games and the start of the Champions League campaign, enough time has passed to start assessing new recruits that have been purchased over the summer transfer window.
One of those is Nemanja Matić, 29, from Chelsea. Bought for £40m, there were raised eyebrows after Manchester United fans had thought the most logical buy would have been AS Monaco’s Fabinho, for a similar price and a lot younger.
Not every fan was onboard with the idea of signing a Matić who had seemingly regressed in his playing ability for Chelsea in the last two years. The Serbian midfielder was one of the players that was a target to Mourinho when his downfall occurred and the Portuguese manager, on more than one occasion, singled him out.
So it may have come to a surprise that Mourinho rebuffed the ideas that there had been a falling out and that he courted him so heavily throughout the summer months.
“Matic, I cannot say that I had better guys than him in my career,” Mourinho told The Times.
“He was one of ‘my guys’, was one of the guys that we kept close during these years even not working together. So I know that the big man is there, even with more maturity.”
Judging from the start to Matić’s career at Manchester United, it is clear to see why Mourinho rates him so highly and sees him as a fundamental piece to his project at the club.
The main purpose of bringing in the defensive midfielder was to alleviate the defensive duties from Paul Pogba, which has been a huge success so far. The former Juventus midfielder has never had such a promising start to a campaign – finding the net twice and registering two assists.
However, what appears to have gone under the radar slightly is that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been given a free role going forward, which has worked absolute wonders in United’s attacking play.
Last year, in the Armenian’s first season, Mourinho used him as an out-and-out winger, a wing-back and as a number 10. The manager was not convinced and understood that not only did Mkhitaryan need time to settle into his new surroundings, Mourinho also needed another defensive player to allow his attackers to be true attackers.
Given that Mkhitaryan only achieved one assist in the Premier League last year, there were worries over whether the Armenian captain would ever adjust and settle in accordingly. His Europa League performances were incredibly positive, which is why no one had written him off.
Wind forward a few months and the advanced playmaker has five assists – technically six if you count Romelu Lukaku’s goal against Stoke last weekend – in just six appearances. Quite the turnaround.
There could be a lot of extraneous variables that has swung Mkhitaryan’s form around, but one huge driving factor has to be the inclusion of Matić into the team. Without the Serbian midfielder, Mkhitaryan might well still be playing in a wing-back role and focussing on defensive duties rather than his more accustomed offensive ones.
It has been evident so far that Mkhitaryan’s best position is just behind Lukaku in a number 10 role. He supplement’s the Belgian forward incredibly well and is fantastic in tight spaces. He also does not have the problem Juan Mata has – a lack of pace. In fact, Mkhitaryan is deceptively quick across the ground, as seen by United’s blistering counter-attacks this season.
Mkhitaryan is in red hot form and Manchester United will hope that it continues, given Pogba’s injury which suggests he could be out for up to six weeks. The Red Devils’ main creative output now lies with the Armenian, but from the early showing this season, he looks like he is the man for the job.
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