Fleet-footed maestro Eden Hazard took the plaudits for his starring role in Chelsea’s title charge – and rightly so. The Belgian completed 179 dribbles, streets ahead of nearest rival Alexis Sanchez. Hazard created more chances than any other Premier League player this season (101). He was Chelsea’s chief architect, and of the Premier League’s attacking midfielders, only Arsenal's Chilean star Sanchez scored more.
But it’s a fair question to ask if he or any of Chelsea’s attacking talents would have had the freedom to cause chaos in the attacking third if you’d removed the roadblock behind them. The answer, of course, is no. That impenetrable barricade was Nemanja Matic. His team-mates rely on him – not only to do their dirty work, but to supply pinpoint passes into feet.
After signing a 21-year-old Matic from Kosice for £1.5 million, the Blues used him as a makeweight in the deal to bring David Luiz to Stamford Bridge from Benfica. The Brazilian has since departed for PSG and Matic returned to west London in a deal worth £22m after excelling at the Estádio da Luz. And what a coup he’s proved to be. He made more tackles than any other player in the top division (129) this season, won the third-most duels overall (278) and was second to creator-in-chief Cesc Fabregas for passes made in the opposition half. He’s revered for his efficient defensive work, but he’s more than just a water-carrier. He can play, too.
His impact at both ends of the pitch was highlighted in Chelsea’s 2-1 win at Aston Villa in February, where Matic made more passes than any other player on the pitch (74, with a 91% completion rate), two of which led to goalscoring opportunities. Defensively he was just as influential, making 5 tackles, 6 clearances and 9 ball recoveries – only Villa’s Carles Gil managed more (11).
Again, it was Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic who hogged the headlines with goals, but it was Matic’s discipline and tactical acumen that let the mavericks off their leash. It came on the same day Manchester City drew 1-1 at home with Hull City, giving Chelsea a seven-point lead at the top of the table.
The Serbian showed his worth again during Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in April. Refusing to break rank, the Blues sat back and allowed United to dominate possession, which bore little reward for Louis van Gaal’s side as Matic stepped in before any openings could present themselves. The 6ft 4in sentinel made 10 ball recoveries, 5 tackles and 4 headed clearances to keep the red wave at bay.
Chelsea may not have shown much of their attacking prowess that day, but the Blues went on to win their first title for five years and a fourth in 11 campaigns. “He’s [Matic] a giant. Not for his size but for the way he plays. The man is a giant.” Who’s going to argue with Jose?
Stats Zone Premier League Goalkeeper of the Year 2014/15
Stats Zone Premier League Full-Back of 2014/15
Stats Zone Premier League Centre-Back of 2014/15
Stats Zone Premier League Attacking Midfielder of 2014/15
Stats Zone Premier League Striker of 2014/15
Stats Zone Premier League Player of 2014/15
Stats Zone Premier League Young Player of 2014/15
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