As of Boxing Day 2019, Nemanja Matić had featured just three times for Manchester United in the league.
Once a colossus of a holding midfielder with two Premier League winner’s medals to his name, the Serbia international’s time at the top appeared to be coming to an unceremonious end.
Fast forward six months, and the 31-year-old is enjoying an emphatic renaissance in his United career, providing the defensive protection to allow headline-grabbers Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba to strut their stuff.
Much has been made of Fernandes’ budding partnership with Pogba in the centre of midfield, but in truth, the twinkle-toed pair are only being allowed the freedom to express themselves because of the quality and class of Matić.
The former Chelsea man produced a midfield masterclass against Bournemouth on Saturday afternoon in United’s 5-2 win, acting as a safety net against any Bournemouth counter-attacking threat, as United ploughed forward.
With the Cherries camped in their own half in an attempt to stifle the Red Devils threat, the emphasis was on the home side to remain patient and break them down with offensive passing, and Matić was the man to offer just that.
Once labelled a side-ways passing merchant, Matić showed no hesitation in demanding the ball from Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, before picking his head up and either driving forward or producing cute passes to break the stringent Bournemouth lines.
With United trailing following Junior Stanislas’ early strike, Matić produced a superb left-footed ball on the half-volley to release Marcus Rashford, cutting out the full Bournemouth press, before the ball landed at the feet of youngster Mason Greenwood who restored parity for the home side.
The Serb also grabbed himself an assist for the afternoon, as he displayed the eye for danger which has seen him become one of the best holding midfielders in the game, cutting out the Cherries’ attempt to clear the ball before laying it on a plate for Greenwood to double his account for the afternoon.
After Fernandes’ brilliant free kick signalled the end of the game as a contest just past the hour mark, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saw the opportunity to ring the changes and afford some of his key players a rest ahead of Thursday’s trip to Aston Villa. Matić was the first to be rested – testament to just how important a player he is for United.
Having been reduced to fleeting appearances in the early rounds of the Europa League and the League Cup, and playing just 160 minutes of league football this season prior to the Christmas period, Matić has gone on to start 12 of the last 13 league games in which he has been included in the matchday squad.
With the Serbia international set to turn 32 before the start of next season, it would be easy for United fans to speculate that the club should delve into the transfer market in search of a younger, fresher holding midfielder.
However, Matić proved with his commanding performance against Bournemouth that not only does he have the fight and the leadership qualities to drive the team forward, he's also still got the talent too.