Chelsea boss Antonio Conte and captain Gary Cahill have both admitted that losing Nemanja Matic to Manchester United will serve as a huge blow to their squad heading into the 2017/18 campaign.
The Guardian had reported in June that a £40m deal for the Serbian international had been agreed between the two clubs, only for Conte to seemingly jettison any prospect of a move as part of an angry reaction to seeing United prize Romelu Lukaku – a big summer target for the champions – away from his grasp. Matic, however, was hellbent on leaving and with no other club willing to match Mourinho’s £40m offer the Chelsea boss had little choice but to let him leave Stamford Bridge.
Matic completed a move to Old Trafford last week, arriving for a fee of £35m with £5m in add ons, and was unarguably United’s standout performer during the 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, holding firm amid a first half onslaught from the Spanish champions and even setting up Romelu Lukaku’s goal in the 62nd minute.
And Conte, reflecting on Matic’s departure, admitted that he never wanted to see the midfielder leave Stamford Bridge but implied he had very little power over the matter.
“Matic knows very well what I think about him,” he said.
“The importance for me about this player because, I repeat, he’s a really good and strong player – and important for our team.
“Sometimes you must accept this crazy transfer market and sometimes you must accept different decisions. But I repeat for sure he is a great loss.”
Early signs of Chelsea creaking without the indomitable influence of Matic at the core of proceedings were there to see during Chelsea’s Community Shield defeat to Arsenal last weekend. A midfield pivot of N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas dwindled against Granit Xhaka and Sead Kolasinac, seemingly lacking the regimentation and shape brought in abundance by Matic. He hasn’t won two Premier League titles in three seasons because of luck, after all.
Somebody who will, you sense, suffer more than most next season without Matic is the skipper, Cahill, who conceded that life will be much harder this season without the midfield powerhouse sitting in front of him.
“Matic is a fantastic player, a real top player,” Cahill noted. “I had the benefit of realising how good he is when he’s playing just in front of you, on and off the ball.
“He’s going to be a huge loss, there’s no doubt about that.”