Manchester United made it three wins out of three in the Champions League on Wednesday night, following their 1-0 win over Benfica. Jose Mourinho claimed United were probably just one point away from qualification, with their Portuguese opponents yet to pick up a point and CSKA Moscow with only three points on the board. United look in good shape to qualify for the next round.
There was nothing remarkable about the win, other than Mile Svilar’s awful mistake that allowed Marcus Rashford to score. Yet there’s something soothing for United fans about the composure that Mourinho brings. After a few years of never feeling assured of a win, under the guidance of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, avoiding defeat has become the norm.
United have lost just once in their last 16 games and that came against the champions of Spain, Europe and the world, Real Madrid.
There are some things that United fans have been able to rely upon this season. Mourinho’s tactics away from home, David de Gea pulling off world class saves and Nemanja Matic putting in a solid display in the centre of the park.
With every appearance you have to wonder more and more how he was allowed to leave Chelsea for United. He’s played in 12 games now and has barely put a foot out of place. When comparing him to his replacement at Stamford Bridge, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Matic is a cut above. So far this season, he’s made an average of 20 more successful passes per game than the Frenchman, as he keeps things ticking over perfectly in midfield.
Many United fans were less than impressed when they learned United were paying £40 million for a player soon to turn 29 yet those complaints quickly died out.
Not only has he done a good job of protecting the defence but he has been surprisingly useful going forward too. He plays the ball ahead of him quickly, takes on opposition players and isn’t afraid of having a shot on goal from distance.
United fans can feel lucky to have him in their team and have to acknowledge it was only possible because of Mourinho.
The manager has called Matic “one of my guys” and claimed last month that he hadn’t coached a player with a better attitude than him in his career.
The feeling is clearly mutual, with Matic hailing Mourinho as a key reason for his desire to leave Chelsea for United.
This week, Matic has ramped up the praise further, claiming that Mourinho is the best manager he’s ever played for. He also acknowledged that it isn’t always plain sailing playing for Mourinho though.
“Sometimes it isn’t easy to work with him, because he always demands more,” he said. “Even when you play the best match in your career, he considers that you can play better in the next match.”
Mourinho is a perfectionist. While you can imagine that can be trying at times, his record speaks for itself. It clearly is a method that Matic is drawn to and something that gets the best out of him.
The manager reflected on a moment during their time together at Chelsea when he brought the Serbian on at half-time. 20 minutes later, Matic was hooked.
“He was really sad. I was also sad because it’s not something nice and it’s something that I did only twice in my career,” Mourinho said. “But the next day he comes to me and he says, ‘I’m not happy, but it’s my fault. I’m not happy with what you did to me, but it’s my fault, because the way I was playing I can understand the change. So let’s keep going’.”
Matic is very much in the honeymoon period but the fact that Chelsea supporters initially weren’t too bothered to see him leaves indicates that he does have a few stinking performances in him.
Yet, for now, the fans, player and manager are all happy. Mourinho has made Matic a key player and United are reaping the rewads.
“The fact that I’m playing for United is the pinnacle of my career,” Matic said this week. The fact that United have a player of his quality playing in the first season they look to challenge for the title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement is going down pretty well with the fan base in return.