Often, when choosing the best player from a particular match, the memory will put forward players who contributed with goals and assists. Other times, someone stands out so much for other aspects of their game to earn appreciation.
The latter was certainly the case for Roma’s Nemanja Matic on Thursday 20th April, when he put in an age-defying display in midfield to help his side through to the Europa League semi-finals at Feyenoord’s expense.
The signing of Matic on a free transfer in the summer was perhaps not the most exciting modification to Roma’s squad, but nevertheless a deal that made a lot of sense. The Serbia international quickly learned Italian, but took some time to win everyone over for his performances on Serie A surfaces.
His pairing with Bryan Cristante in the middle of the park was, sometimes unfairly but sometimes understandably, seen as uninspiring by many. But both have improved over the course of the season – and few would question Matic in particular by now.
When Feyenoord arrived at Stadio Olimpico for the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final, they were in for a schooling by one of Roma’s most experienced players. Matic’s performance was phenomenal by anyone’s standards, let alone for a 34-year-old lasting the full two hours of action across normal and extra time.
Where did all that energy come from? Somehow, Matic summoned from within him the physical and psychological qualities that would enable him to absolutely dominate.
The number of duels he won stretched into double figures. Furthermore, he ended the game with the second-most touches and passes completed of any Roma player (behind Gianluca Mancini in both categories), the second-most tackles (behind Lorenzo Pellegrini) and the standalone most interceptions.
Matic obviously has a genuine tall frame, but the way he rose above his opponents on the pitch on Thursday made it seem like he was three metres tall, domineeringly looking over them all. His presence was overwhelming.
Defensive interceptions made by Matic were commanding. Yet his playing style wasn’t wholly focused on that phase of the game. The former Chelsea and Man Utd enforcer looked forward, sometimes making lung-busting runs in order to participate higher up the pitch. Wherever he was, Matic helped Roma assert control of the tie.
In Friday’s newspapers (titles from which generosity can sometimes be challenging to earn), Matic received a match rating of 8/10 from La Gazzetta Dello Sport, Corriere Dello Sport, Corriere Della Sera, La Repubblica, Il Tempo and Leggo, while Il Messaggero and Tuttosport gave him a more reserved 7/10.
One Roma-oriented website who only gave Matic a score of 6.5/10 in their own ratings soon found their replies on Twitter to a man-of-the-match poll (in which he wasn’t a candidate) flooded by fans pointing out the injustice towards the Jose Mourinho favourite.Embed from Getty Images
Matic’s display deserved the highest plaudits. At his age, he won’t have the energy to dominate games week in, week out, but when he does, those watching should find it hard to ignore.
Roma’s midfield needed some stability heading into this season and, as the summer transfer window approaches, it still does. But Matic has plugged a gap since his arrival and went even further than that against Feyenoord. If he can keep up this form, he would absolutely be worth keeping on board next season too.
A player of his pedigree never should have had anything to prove, but he took it upon himself on Thursday in particular to give an emphatic demonstration of how beneficial he can be. What a player.