A lot has gone right for the Manchester United squad since José Mourinho’s departure and the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as caretaker manager. Solskjaer has United playing entertaining attacking football again, and the fans are loving the performances so far. Paul Pogba in particular has rightfully earned praise for his creativity and renewed love for the game after being given the freedom to play forward in a roaming attacking role. However, another midfielder has improved their output under Ole’s leadership: Nemanja Matić.
Before we continue, it should be noted that the impressive wins under Solskjaer have come against Cardiff City and Huddersfield, who are 17th and 20th respectively in the Premier League table. They aren’t exactly the highest quality of opponents United will face in the league, but wins are wins, and with new confidence and a new attacking spirit this side will do well to keep up their high pressure attacking performances.
Nemanja Matić, a player Mourinho has purchased 3 times in his managerial career, was starting to be seen by fans as a failure early in his second season at United. He was slow, outplayed, and part of a woeful defensive effort that saw the Reds give up 29 goals in their first 17 matches. As a Mourinho favorite he was suspected to be one of the few players still on the Special One’s side, and his future looked uncertain post-Mourinho. Matić looked past it, and the manager who defended him was gone. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival signaled the end of parking the bus, but a new role for Matić.
In the 5-1 win against Cardiff United managed to keep the ball for most of the match. Matić’s role at the center of the park became a supporting role to the attackers as they ventured forward, applying constant pressure on a struggling Bluebird back line. Matić was not out of his depth in this role, and acted as an effective line of support between the attack and defense. Without the burden of overwhelming defensive duties he was able to play out the full 90 without expending all of his energy man marking and covering for the center backs.
Matić isn’t the most creative midfielder when it comes to attacking, but his passing and ability to read the pitch and sense pressure make him an important anchor for the midfielders who are given the creative roles. As mentioned, Pogba’s notable form has been important, but Fred and Ander Herrera also played particularly well in their time under new management. In the 3-1 win over Huddersfield at Old Trafford, Pogba, Fred/Herrera, and Juan Mata were able to operate from a forward position for most of the match, providing key interplay with forwards Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford. Matić even scored himself, a tap-in from a rebounded corner to open the scoring.
Much of the focus was always going to be on the attacking players and how they performed post-Mourinho, and their recognition is much deserved after the media’s and Mourinho ultras’ questioning of their loyalty and effort. However, don’t overlook the contributions of others in the squad as well. The new tactics have allowed the defensive players to thrive as well under significantly less pressure from the opposition. Nemanja Matić in particular has been off to a good start under Solskjaer’s management, and his services could be important as United hope to clinch a top 4 spot and save the season.