Why Nemanja Matic can lead Chelsea to Champions League glory next season

Cup-tied in Europe last term, Nemanja Matic could prove crucial for the Blues this time around.

With 92 minutes on the clock in last month's Champions League final, Atletico Madrid led great rivals Real by a solitary goal and were on the cusp of celebrating a domestic and European double.

And barring a standalone failure to mark Sergio Ramos for Real's equaliser, Diego Simeone's men would have completed that most extraordinary of feats.

But never mind Atletico, it could have been Chelsea in that final in Lisbon.

Yes, Jose Mourinho's Blues may have been outworked and eventually outclassed by the La Liga champions at the semi-final stage - but thin margins separated the sides in reality.

One factor that may have proved crucial was the absence on Nemanja Matic, Mourinho's trump card in January that brought great order and resilience to Chelsea's midfield, who was cup-tied in the Champions League.

Atletico would still have been the same strong side - and by no means would have been knocked out simply because of one player. But the Serb's impact on his team-mates has been significant since his return to Stamford Bridge from Benfica.

  InterceptionsBlocksTackles wonAssistsApps
Nemanja Matic 31 5 39 4 17
Ramires 25 6 66 2 30
John Obi Mikel 24 6 27 1 24
Willian 17 0 35 2 25
Frank Lampard 14 3 33 3 26
Oscar 7 0 50 2 33

Defensively, Opta stats show just how important Matic is. In a team that has conceded the least goals in the Premier League, the 25-year-old midfielder has left his mark after just a handful of appearances.

Having played less games than any of Chelsea's other core midfielders, Matic still made more interceptions than anyone - and just one less outfield block than the likes of Ramires and John Obi Mikel. Brazilian Ramires is also the only man to have made more tackles than Matic, having played 13 league games more than him.

Imagine a Chelsea side with that kind of defensive solidity at their disposal in Europe next season?

Make no mistake, in tight, tactical knockout ties, it could prove the difference between going out on away goals and reaching the next round.

Another interesting factor, however, is the amount of assists Matic registered in the Premier League. No Chelsea midfielder above made more assists than the 25-year-old, despite having featured more prominently. Not just a brick wall for opposing attackers, then, Matic is a midfielder capable of turning defence into a forward move.

The Serb, of course, could not feature in Europe for the Blues last term. But he can next season - and what a boost for Mourinho and the Chelsea squad: real steel added to their midfield without even making another signing.

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