Nemanja Matic had barely been back for his second stint at Chelsea for a month in February 2014 when he produced a dominant central midfield performance in a 1-0 win at the Etihad against Manchester City.
He offered great protection for his defence, completing four tackles and nine clearances, showed composure and simplicity in possession and went toe-to-toe with Yaya Toure in terms of physicality.
The following season his performances rose another level in terms of breaking play up and making challenges, alongside launching attacks from deep with driving runs in possession through midfield.
Across all midfielders during the 2014/15 campaign, Matic led the way for ball recoveries (312), clearances (131) and tackles won (101). Of all midfielders to complete a minimum of 50 dribbles, he also did so at the highest success rate (78%), while only Cesc Fabregas, Toure and Santi Cazorla completed more passes.
Yet since, the Serbian has looked a shadow of his former self. He wasn’t the only Chelsea player to drop way below the expected standard last term, but even in the current campaign there is little sign of a rejuvenation in form.
During the last 2-1 defeat to Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, Matic failed to complete a single tackle or win a header in the first hour, despite towering above the majority of opponents at 6ft 4ins tall. By the end of the match, the 28-year-old hadn’t made a single clearance either.
Matic’s job now is to form a partnership with N’Golo Kante, especially in the big games, to help the Blues retain a solid defensive shape and resistance. Against Liverpool, he failed to do this.
Antonio Conte is opting to leave out Cesc Fabregas at present, with at least one consideration being the quality of his defensive work in a two-man midfield. The former Barcelona man has a tendency to lose his runners and not occupy the right spaces off the ball.
However, based on Matic’s current statistics, Conte may be better off selecting Fabregas, at least to add an extra layer of creativity to Chelsea’s attacking play.
Chelsea’s odds are now 7/1 to win the Premier League and without Matic stepping up his performances to more closely mirror his 2014/15 contribution, the 8/15 that they finish in the top four looks the best they can do.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.