August 10, 2017
Former Manchester United player and coach, Phil Neville believes that Chelsea’s decision to sell Nemanja Matic, which he suggests was ‘horrendous’ has strengthened the Old Trafford club’s Premier League title bid. Jose Mourinho became United’s manager after Louis van Gaal was sacked in May 2016 and immediately started to strengthen the club with the immediate arrival of Eric Bailly, followed by both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, later followed by former world record signing, Paul Pogba. This summer, Mourinho has added Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku, and now Matic. The 29-year-old Serbian was sold to United for £40 million (£35 million plus £5 million in add ons, according to reports).
Neville, speaking to Sky Sports television programme, The Debate, said that United’s acquisition of Matic puts the club in the driving seat in the Premier League this season, the season Mourinho is expected to assemble a title-winning team, challenging and possibly bringing home the first league title after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, which has been four years now. Mourinho has done well with his side over the last season, finishing with three trophies; the FA Community Shield, EFL Cup and the UEFA Europa League, also qualifying for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, which was something that needed to happen to stop United from having their adidas deal cut in terms of revenue. Neville said:
“I can’t think of a reason why Chelsea would sell him. If Nathaniel Chalobah or Ruben Loftus-Cheek were still there they could get rid of Matic and play a younger kid.
“You would applaud that but those players aren’t even at the club now. They have weakened their own team and strengthened Manchester United, who now have a better chance of winning the Premier League than Chelsea.
“United were crying out for a central midfielder with the qualities of Nemanja Matic. He is probably the best in England alongside N’Golo Kante.
“Chelsea have broken up that partnership and strengthened their rivals. All of a sudden United are in the driving seat ahead of Chelsea to win the Premier League.
“Chelsea are weaker than last season – no Diego Costa, no Matic – and I’m concerned for them. Is Tiemoue Bakayoko a similar type of player to Matic? Will he gel alongside Kante?
“Matic has intelligence and experience of the Premier League. Bakayoko has not and I saw him in the Champions League last year. He was good in some games, inexperienced in others. He will take time to settle.
“I think the [Matic] sale at this moment in time, with that Chelsea squad, could cost them the league.”
Neville also suggested that he expected the arrival of Matic to help Paul Pogba settle a bit more and have the midfield freedom he would thrive on, making him more of the player he can become. Last season, many football supporters suggested that for a fee of £89 million, Pogba should have been more of a finished product and a player who could score more goals. It is like they expected the fee to dictate what a player does when that is not exactly the case and shows that they don’t exactly understand football. Pogba has never been a 20 goal a season player, he has been consistent with his performances for Juventus during the previous four seasons, stepping up to the competitive nature of the Premier League. Neville said:
“Every time we watched Pogba last season it was, ‘Where do you play him?’ Now there is no excuse.
“He has somebody in there that will fill the holes when he vacates them, he has licence to go wherever he wants and he [Matic] will provide that stability for the back four. Of all the signings United have made, Matic is the best one.
“Pogba teased us last year. In some games it was, ‘Wow’, and in others it was ‘Dear me’. This year is his year.
“Last season he reminded me at times of when United signed Juan Sebastian Veron. He was a brilliant midfield player, one of the best in the world, but he kept chasing the ball and vacating areas. That is difficult to play with and Pogba was like that last year.
“Pogba scored nine goals last season, I think he can get 15.
“It amazes me, why would you sell Matic to Manchester United? You are not only improving United in defensive midfield, you are making Pogba better, [Ander] Herrera better. It is a horrendous sale.”
Neville seems to see something that many have failed to see. When Matic was linked to United, the majority of supporters were moaning about the fact Mourinho was interested in bringing a ten 28-year-old to the club, him turning 29 the day after he signed. Some seem to stigmatise a players age, suggesting that the mere number means they cannot compete in the English top-flight, or on a European stage. You would have thought the arrival of a 35-year-old Swedish striker proving them wrong last season would have changed their opinion, it clearly didn’t. Matic made his debut against Sampdoria in Dublin, playing 45 minutes and showing he had fit right into his new team. He then made his competitive debut against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday, playing 90 minutes and being the best player on the pitch for United. You can watch The Debate on Sky Sports Premier League at 22:00 BST tonight (Thursday 10th August 2017).