Man Utd’s signing of Nemanja Matic is certainly likely to make the Red Devils stronger defensively and give creative players more time to wreak havoc. But it also had another consequence: the arrival of the 6ft 4ins Serb has made Man Utd the tallest team in the top six. Could this play a factor in propelling them back to the top of the table?
Strength, power and height have all been staples of Jose Mourinho teams throughout his career. The Chelsea side he assembled had a fearsome spine of Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. At Inter his players were not the most technically gifted but they dug in and parked the bus with dogged determination and claimed an unlikely Champions League win.
Man Utd were always powerful under Sir Alex Ferguson, with key lynchpins like Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Peter Schmeichel, Roy Keane and so on adding steel to the creative flair brought to the table by the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. They lost a bit of that strength under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, but Mourinho has set about making them physically intimidating once more. He knows that brawn is just as important as flair to winning the Premiership. Just look at Arsenal, who were invincible with Patrick Vieira, Sol Campbell and Dennis Bergkamp forming their spine, but have not won the league in 13 years after replacing them with technically gifted but diminutive players like Cesc Fabregas, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey. Every team that has ever won the league has had its fair share of giants at the heart of things, from the Man City team of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure to the Leicester City side of Kasper Schmeichel, Robert Huth and Wes Morgan. Having tall players helps with set pieces at both ends of the pitch, but it also adds to the fear factor among the opposition when lining up in the tunnel before the game.
This summer Mourinho has signed three players and they are all tall and strong: the 6ft 4ins Matic, 6ft 3ins Romelu Lukaku and 6ft 1in Victor Lindelof. All of Mourinho’s last seven signings have been over 6ft and the 5ft 11ins Henrikh Mkhitaryan is his only purchase below 6ft. Mourinho is assembling another team of giants and the spine now looks extremely strong: David De Gea, Eric Bailly, Lindelof, Matic, Paul Pogba and Lukaku. Not only are Utd the tallest team in the top six, they are also surely the strongest. In the long winter months that could be invaluable in earning three points from scrappy away games. If they choose to they can bully teams like Arsenal and Liverpool and use their physicality to overwhelm them.
At the height of Van Gaal’s reign (pardon the pun) he bemoaned the team’s lack of height as only four first teamers were above 6ft. Now Man Utd are a force to be reckoned with at set pieces and will be hard to break down. That might inspire you to back Man Utd to win the title this season. Research the betting lines at Bet365 before placing some action, and you will see that Mourinho’s men are 7/2 joint second favourites, level with Chelsea and with Man City out front as 15/8 favourites. You can thus get a strong return on your investment if they pull off a title victory. Mourinho achieved it in his second season back at Chelsea and there is every chance he could do it in his second season at Utd as he shakes off the van Gaal era and puts his stamp on the team. But there is still a problem around creativity. Man Utd were very strong defensively last season but finished because they scored far fewer goals than the top five. It is all well and good being strong, tall and powerful, but you need to create chances to win games and they are still short of a flair player or two. Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata are good players, but they still need a genius like Scholes or Giggs or Cristiano Ronaldo or David Beckham that can decide a game with a moment of individual brilliance. If they bolster their attacking ranks then the title could well be heading back to Old Trafford.