How will Jose Mourinho choose to play Nemanja Matic for Manchester United after £40m transfer from Chelsea?

The Serbian's signing can trigger a number of different systems for the Red Devils

Jack Austin
Tuesday 01 August 2017 13:24
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Jose Mourinho looks to have finally built a midfield he is happy with at Manchester United, with Nemanja Matic appearing to be the final – and maybe most important – piece of that particular puzzle.

The Serbian signed a three-year deal following his £40m move from Chelsea to reunite with his former boss on Monday.

A winger and a full-back are still on his wish list but for now his team is looking more complete than it has done in the 12 months since he became manager at Old Trafford.

Mourinho called Matic a “Mourinho player” when the signing was announced and can trust the 29-year-old to slot in and know how he wants him to play immediately.

But the signing of Matic also gives the Portuguese a number of options of how he can now mould his team…

Midfield three (4-3-3)

This is likely to be the formation Mourinho begins his second season at Old Trafford with after shifting towards this system at the end of the last campaign to try and bring the best out of Paul Pogba.

That will likely be the goal of Matic’s signing. In this system, Matic will be the anchor in the midfield trio alongside the busy-bodying of Ander Herrera, allowing Pogba to have more influence higher up the pitch – so expect a lot more goals and assists from the Frenchman, and the link between him and Romelu Lukaku to be fairly pronounced.

Such is Mourinho’s trust in Matic is that he is confident that the Serbian will balance the midfield well enough to allow Pogba to maraud in a way that he couldn’t previously with Michael Carrick or Marouane Fellaini in that position.

Base of the diamond (4-4-2)

Another option is to pack the midfield and narrow the pitch by playing a diamond quartet with Matic at the base, shielding the back four but also playing a quarterback role passing the ball out from defence.

It would require Pogba to play a more withdrawn role but would give him space to drift out to the left as he did so often last season, although this time he would be able to do it without the threat of leaving huge holes in the United midfield.

It also gives Mourinho the opportunity to play an out-and-out No 10 at the tip of the diamond – either Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Juan Mata – with Lukaku and Marcus Rashford ahead of him.

The other bonus of this formation is that it reduces the need for wide players which, with Ivan Perisic now looking unlikely to arrive, may be needed at points during the season.

Screening the back three (3-4-2-1)

Matic is schooled in the Mourinho way of doing things but, following a season under Antonio Conte at Chelsea, he also knows how to successfully operate with a back three behind him.

With Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and a-another forming a formidable back-three, Matic would be left to shield them and full-backs Antonio Valencia (or £25m Serge Aurier if the deal goes through) and Luke Shaw allowed to put more emphasis on attacking, something both are more accustomed to than defending.

Herrera would be his perfect midfield partner for this giving the energy and passing he brings to the side, with Pogba more advanced alongside Mkhitaryan, with Lukaku up front as the lone striker.

Verdict

Despite the options Matic gives Mourinho, it is likely he will initially stick with the 4-3-3 formation, give the freedom it allows Pogba and the pace it lets him unleash up front with the likes of Anthony Martial, Rashford, Lingard or Mkhitaryan supporting Lukaku.

Bringing in another wideman was a priority for the summer but that looks unlikely as it is so a switch to either a midfield diamond or a back three and use the full-backs as wingers could work further into the season – something that wouldn’t have worked last season without Matic.

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