Inter’s links with Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic make sense, as the club continues to deal with a lack of depth in midfield. The Nerazzurri’s loss to Juventus said everything about their issues in that area, especially after Stefano Sensi trudged off injured.
While Sensi’s injury isn’t directly related to the chase of Matic, it does define how Inter struggles when the need for cover arises. Juve, meanwhile, boasts immense depth in every area of the pitch. In midfield, the Bianconeri have seven players to play: Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Rodrigo Bentancur, Aaron Ramsey, Emre Can, and Adrien Rabiot.
While Inter have six options in that department, it is about quality more than quantity. Antonio Conte has Sensi, Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic, Roberto Gagliardini, Matias Vecino, and Borja Valero as his options in midfield.
But the difference in quality is pretty glaring. Juve have two World Cup winners and summer signings who have won trophies in England and France respectively. The Inter midfield has players who have zero major trophies amongst them.
While Brozovic has been the regular defensive midfielder in the 3-5-2 shape this season, it is Sensi who has often played there in between games. Borja Valero, who was linked with a move back to Fiorentina this past summer, has played just one game so far. In face, he played just a single minute in Inter’s 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League.
In the talks with Fiorentina, it was clear that Inter were happy to let the Spaniard leave. With that in mind, the possible signature of Matic would suggest continuity in their approach. But they will have a player who has won the Premier League twice in his career – once under Conte himself at Chelsea.
The Serbian is now 31 and has played only five times in all competitions for Manchester United. He isn’t as quick a player as he was during his prime, and for a team that is now keen on playing younger players, Matic is now being frozen out.
United’s pursuit of players like Borussia Monchengladbach’s Denis Zakaria suggests that they don’t see a future with Matic. It seems as though they would be keen on letting him go when the chance arrives.
The Old Trafford side signed Matic from Chelsea in the summer of 2017 for a fee of £40m. This was months after Matic had won the Premier League under Conte, but was replaced by Tiemoue Bakayoko that very summer.
Losing Matic left Conte disappointed. In an interview with Sky Sports (via the Independent), he said:
“Matic knows very well what I think about him. The importance for me about this player, who is a really good player, a top player, very important for our team, but sometimes you must accept this crazy transfer market. And sometimes you must accept different decisions. But he is a great loss for us.”
At United, Matic joined Jose Mourinho – the man who had led the Blues to the title with Matic in midfield in 2015. United finished second in the 2017-18 season and Matic was one of their standout players.
The Serbian won the third-highest number of tackles per game that season for the Red Devils – 1.9. He also made the joint-third-highest number of interceptions per game that season – 1.8. He was the fifth-best passer for the club too, racking up a passing percentage of 87.7%.
In Mourinho’s pragmatic system, Matic thrived. He had to do the simple things right. Having tasked with playing the regulatory passes forward, he shielded the back-four by sitting in front of it. He added defensive security to a back-four that conceded the second–least number of goals that season- 28. Matic was a key reason for that.
Matic knows Conte’s system very well. The former Benfica man knows the job that an anchorman has to do in the Italian’s pragmatic style. He played that role alongside N’Golo Kante in the 2016-17 season, when Chelsea played a 3-4-3 shape.
The Serbian brings a huge amount of experience to the table. He has the know-how of winning titles and major trophies too. Playing in a slightly slower league, as compared to the Premier League, could suit him at this stage of his career. Adding a trusted guard like Matic to the side would help Conte make this Inter team his own.
He will not play regularly but he can still do a job when called upon, especially in the Serie A under a manager who he has a special connection with. Considering the fact that Matic’s deal at United runs out at the end of the season, they can’t let the chance of losing him for a free slip.