By 90Min
October 09, 2017

Much (MUCH) has been said on the topic of Chelsea's sale of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United this summer. 

The 29 year old Serbian's £40m move to Old Trafford was almost universally lauded by pundits as one of the signings of the season, and equally one of the most senseless sales. So, what has changed since the start of the season? 

Well, very little apparently. Matic has put in perfomances of the highest quality, and the type United had been dearly missing, game after game. So much so that his stats are, as you can see in the tweet below, seemingly imperious. But let's take a step back, starting with Chelsea's draw in the London derby with Arsenal on September 17.

After an initial burst of pent up energy and creativity in the first 20 minutes, it soon became clear Chelsea lacked the penetration and directness to really take the game to Arsenal. You can't always rely on Cesc Fabregas's signature clips over the top. 

For a while they seemed lost, unable to get out of their own half in any meaningful way, and unable to lay a glove on the Arsenal back four. 

Either David Luiz or Gary Cahill, following an eternity of lateral passes between them, would lump the ball up to the still acclimatising Alvaro Morata, and possession was lost. That was until an unfit Tiémoué Bakayoko started to show glimpses of the marauding runs he was so famed for in France to the Stamford Bridge faithful. 

It would be ill-advised to suggest Bakayoko has matched the impact of Matic at United, but he has shown (briefly) why Chelsea made the switch. 

It's not just that he's younger & more skillful, but that he gives Chelsea an edge few teams have. His directness is a gift rarely mastered; Ross Barkley has been living off the hopes of such a talent for almost two years now. 

Bakayoko was ever present for Monaco last season, and crucial to the front foot football they played. Not only would he break up play, he then had the capability to drive his team up the pitch, sometimes single-handedly. He has a variety to his game as well, enabling him to engage in midfield duels with the likes of Marco Veratti in a way that Matic could never do.


Whilst Matic is an excellent ball winner and has an honourable range of passing, he does not play the game at the same pace as Bakayoko. 

There is scarcely a step backwards for Bakayoko - everything he does is designed gallop his team up the field; in perfect tandem to Antonio Conte's counter attacking style. 

Ok, so why not keep Matic as well and play the two together yo ask? Why does the signing of one mean the exit for the other? Well, other than the fact that it was not financially viable for a Chelsea board with an eye on the books, Matic's value to the team would've greatly decreased. Even towards the end of last season his influence on the team diminished, with Kante rightly taking all the acclaim and Fabregas becoming more and more integral as an impact sub. With Kante, Fabregas and now Bakayoko, Matic would've been in between roles and likely a squad player.

There's also an elegance to Bakayoko that Matic never possessed. This speaks to a wider shift in style and philosophy at Chelsea. Taking out Matic and Diego Costa from the title winning side of last year and replacing them with Alvaro Morata and Bakayoko shows a very real transition to a more tactful, less oppressive style of play. 


Essentially, this represents the eradication of the last remnants of the Mourinho era at Stamford Bridge. Morata & Bakayoko still possess the necessary power to combat the Premier League, there's just more subtlety, grace (and possibly intelligence) to their games.

It is ironic, then, that Matic's destination should be Mourinho's Man United. Part of a clear strategy to overpower his opposition. Jose wanted an overbearing, all-seeing bully to man his midfield and provide them with a core from which to grow. 

In the short term this may indeed result in a Premier League title and yet more acclaim for their shrewd signing. But, how will both clubs fair in the long term? It was only six months ago when pundits were saying Mourinho had lost his spark and that, like Van Gaal, modern football had evolved under his nose and bypassed him. 

If Mourinho does burn out in his third season as history suggests, what next for a 30+ Nemanja Matic who has already felt the force of one such demise. There were allegations of 'downing tools' on that occasion. How would he cope with round two?

Mourinho is undoubtedly a master at assembling a squad for the short term, but we've also seen how these short term decisions can fare in the long term - look at Internazionale since 2010. 

Short term success feels like the be all and end all in football sometimes, but could it be that by replacing Matic with Bakayoko, Chelsea have cut off their nose to heal their face rather than spite it?

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