A popular joke on Twitter after Manchester United announced the signing of Nemanja Matic to assist Paul Pogba was that it was like spending £40 million on a new charger for your £90m phone.
Last summer, Pogba became the world's most expensive footballer, and carried with that a lot of criticism. Every time his name was mentioned, it came with a pricetag. For the outlay Jose Mourinho paid, people expected more. During his first season back at Old Trafford after the move, the France international never really got a chance to prove his worth, being used in a variety of midfield positions as the Red Devils attempted to compete on numerous fronts.
Having signed defender Victor Lindelof and £75m striker Romelu Lukaku during the transfer window, Mourinho revealed that he still wanted two more additions, one of which was "a midfield player, [who] would give me more options to the balance and the team". In Nemanja Matic, he got exactly what he wanted.
The 29-year-old previously worked with Mourinho at Chelsea, and the pair were re-united last week when his transfer to Manchester United was confirmed. On Wednesday evening at their final pre-season friendly, fans in Dublin got a chance to see exactly why signing Matic is so important for Mourinho's plans.
He played just 45 minutes at the Aviva Stadium, but showed enough against Sampdoria to indicate that he can be the driving force for the Red Devils this season. Matic was signed to play in defensive midfield and free up Pogba, allowing the Frenchman to do what he does best.
In the first minute, the new midfielder was barking orders at team-mates, telling Antonio Valencia where to pass the ball when United won an early throw. He did not see much of the ball at his feet in the early stages, but David May was impressed on MUTV, praising his impact: “He’s organising, he’s pushing players on.”
Pogba was not at his sharpest, overhitting a pass to Lukaku, and losing the ball only to win it back and lose it again. But when Matic and Pogba started to gel, United looked much better. Matic sat back to let Pogba roam forward, with the latter playing clever crossfield passes to open up the pitch.
When the Premier League side lost the ball, Matic was there to win it back, and on a couple of occasions when he did, his first outlet was his 24-year-old midfield team-mate. Andreas Pereira completed the midfield three for United, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan playing off Lukaku in the first-half.
While Pereira had an uneven display, the developing chemistry between the others showed glimpses of what Mourinho's Manchester United can do this season. The confidence was evident as the ball was played wide left to Matteo Darmian, who crossed for Mkhitaryan to head home the opener. Shortly after, the Armenian should have had a second from Antonio Valencia's cross from the right.
The influx of half-time subsitutes saw Pogba, Matic, Pereira and Mkhitaryan all withdrawn, with Mourinho looking ahead to Tuesday's Uefa Super Cup clash with Real Madrid. But by then, he had seen enough to know that his Pogba plan could work with Matic playing behind him.
The subdued atmosphere of the pre-season friendly was mirrored by a less impressive on-field performance from the Red Devils, who let Sampdoria back into the game and allowed them to equalise through Dennis Praet. Juan Mata showed that he should be considered alongside Pogba and Matic with a fine finish to restore Manchester United's lead with 10 minutes remaining.
But the result and the second-half was irrelevant. The new midfield's first-half audition made the Dublin visit worthwhile for Mourinho's men. Pogba may carry the expensive price tag, but Matic will provide the charge he needs to be a superstar this season.