It was no coincidence that the one loss Chelsea have suffered in all competitions so far in 2014/15 came when holding midfielder Nemanja Matic was sidelined through suspension last time out in the Premier League at Newcastle.
Since returning to Stamford Bridge after three years at Benfica, having spent 18 largely fruitless months at the club between 2009-2011, the 18-cap Serbia international has hardly put a foot wrong in front of the Blues’ defence.
In 29 Premier League appearances under Jose Mourinho, Matic has ended up on the losing side just three times and none of those defeats came by more than a single goal.
Newcastle midfield pairing Moussa Sissoko and Cheick Tiote managed to impose themselves in the middle of the St James’ Park pitch in the 26-year-old’s absence, with the former claiming an assist and the latter restricting Cesc Fabregas to just one converted key pass during the 2-1 home victory.
This result underlined how vital to Jose Mourinho’s project Matic has become, so much so that it would be no surprise to see the former FK Jedinstvo youth in the running for club captain when ‘Mr Chelsea’ himself John Terry hangs up his boots.
The ex-England skipper has just turned 34, which suggests his retirement will be sooner rather than later, so you wouldn’t expect too fancy a price about Matic, whose deep-midfield berth is considered by many to be the ideal captain’s perch.
How about 50/1 with bwin.com? Any takers? There’s sure to be a few.
To put this price into context, attacking-midfielder/wide-forward Mo Salah, who signed on at Stamford Bridge at the same time as Matic, can be backed at the same odds despite not starting a Premier League game so far this term.
Andre Schurrle, Oscar and Diego Costa are 40/1, 12/1 and 9/1 respectively, which is quite baffling considering Mourinho clearly prefers his leaders to be more defensive minded, while 16/1 about in-and-out 36-year-old striker Didier Drogba is just plain wrong.
Gary Cahill is the favourite at evens, with Cesc Fabregas close behind at 2/1. Both will come into consideration if they’re still kicking around west London when Terry calls it a day, but should they be so much shorter than man-mountain Matic?
Of course not. Punt accordingly.