Nemanja Matic knows Benfica starlet Lazar Markovic well, having watched the 19-year-old at close quarters prior to his return to Stamford Bridge in January.
Speaking to Portuguese newspaper O Jogo, the Chelsea midfielder hailed his young countryman who has shone on the wing this season.
“He is only 19 years old, will mature and then no one can stop him,” Matic is quoted as saying.
“It was great to have played with this fantastic kid for six months.”
And now Markovic has proved just how important he is to Benfica, scoring the only goal of the game in a victory against Vitoria Guimaraes that has taken them a big step closer to the Primeira Liga title.
Following FC Porto’s shock home defeat on Sunday, Benfica are now seven points clear of them and five clear of second-placed Sporting Lisbon.
After the title race looked like being among the tightest in Europe, Markovic’s strike has seen daylight appear between Benfica and the rest.
Reports both last summer and again in January linked the winger with a move to Stamford Bridge, but the first set of reports proved incorrect as he instead swapped Partizan Belgrade for Benfica and the second came a little too soon for a player who had only recently moved to Portugal.
Markovic now has six goals for the season, and the reported €40million release-clause in his contract is beginning to make sense. But his latest strike could be the most important of them all if Benfica go on to lift a title they are now heavy favourites for.
You can see Markovic's latest goal below:
image: © Crystian Cruz