Experienced Nemanja Matic makes strong first impression at Man United

 knows a thing or two about winning the Premier League and has already seen enough to be confident of a Manchester United title challenge this season.

United did not finish lower than third in the Premier League era under Alex Ferguson, but since his retirement have ended seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth.

Jose Mourinho was in charge for the latter campaign and, despite securing Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield glory, along with Champions League qualification, knows they have to do better in the league.

Matic followed Victor Lindelof and Romelu Lukaku as part of the United manager’s summer reinforcement drive, with the defensive midfielder arriving fresh from winning the title with Chelsea.

The 29-year-old was also a key part of Mourinho’s Blues when winning the league in 2014-15 and has seen enough in his short time at Old Trafford to believe this will be a successful season.

“We have to rest well because we have a very important game on Sunday against West Ham,” Matic said.

“It’s the start of the Premier League and it’s very important for us. As you know the Premier League is the main target. There is a lot of games, it’s a long season but I expect us to do well.”

Matic was speaking after making his competitive United debut, playing the entirety of Tuesday’s 2-1 UEFA Super Cup loss to Real Madrid despite only having had 45 pre-season minutes in red under his belt.

“I think we played everything so we don’t lose this game,” the Serbian said after a performance that thoroughly impressed Mourinho.

“We played against a very good side. Very experienced. They know how to play these games. We are not happy that we lost but did everything.

“We had an opportunity to equalise, Marcus (Rashford) had a good chance and didn’t score, unluckily for us, but this is football.”

Mourinho was full of praise for the way Matic and United’s other new boys continue to settle into his “amazing group”.

Victor Lindelof and Romelu Lukaku joined the Serbian in making their competitive debuts against Madrid. “I think he played really well,” Mourinho said of the 29-year-old defensive midfielder. “I think in the moments where they were moving more the ball, of course it was difficult for us in the midfield.

“But in good moments he was really good and especially in our dominance in the second half after the 2-0.

“In our period of dominance he was what we want him to be: to move the ball in a simple way, to give balance to the team, to start building from the back.

“He is a player with great experience, many years at the highest level and good experience, good stability.”

Fellow summer signing Lindelof struggled at times in a United defence that was missing several players through injury or suspension against Zinedine Zidane’s Champions League winners.

Lukaku, signed from Everton for an initial £75million, wasted a glorious chance shortly after Isco doubled Madrid’s advantage but made no mistake with his next opportunity after Keylor Navas parried a Matic drive.

“It is a difficult job to play against a team that dominates the possession — and he tried,” Mourinho said of his striker.

“Of course he missed a chance with an open goal, but he scored his goal. He had a good fight against two good central defenders and I am happy with this period and how he fits into — I am never tired to repeat — an amazing group.”

Mourinho believes United’s players — old and new — head into Sunday’s Premier League opener against West Ham with “a positive feeling and great experience”.

Phil Jones and Eric Bailly come back into contention for the Old Trafford clash as their suspension only covers European matches, swelling the Red Devils’ defensive options.

Mourinho played a three-man defence at times in the Super Cup, just as he has in some pre-season games, and is ready to deploy it domestically as well.

“We can but we can also play with four in the back,” he said.

“We used the pre-season to work since day one, to work and to try to improve things that we already do. To try to develop things that we normally don’t do and in this moment there are so many teams playing with three in the back and wing-backs that probably sometimes we have to play that way.”


More in this Section

Nigeria to battle Ireland for Saints starlet Michael Obafemi

Henrikh Mkhitaryan: It’s a dream come true

Sanchez seals United switch and hits back at money jibe

Terrace Talk: Man United - One up on noisy neighbours as fiery Chilean ‘netted’


Breaking Stories

Leigh Griffiths hits winner for Celtic against Partick Thistle

Manchester City end brave Bristol City’s cup run

New English women’s boss, Phil Neville, under fire for historical ’sexist’ tweet

Here's how one English football fan reacted to news that Bayeux Tapestry may visit the UK

Lifestyle

The biggest cancer killer will take your breath away

Hopefully she had an idea...

Power of the press: Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks discuss 'The Post'

More From The Irish Examiner