With Chelsea manufacturing an ominous seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League and in control of their Champions League last 16 tie against Galatasaray, the Blues are in excellent shape heading into the business end of the season.
The west London club’s chances of silverware are largely down to a return of a former hero – José Mourinho.
The ex-Real Madrid coach has brought back a steeliness in the Stamford Bridge side, who look more mature, confident and mentally tough under his stewardship.
Despite the impact of the distinguished Portuguese manager, another former charge returning to the Bridge could well have a telling say in the club’s chances of success this season.
Chelsea shelled out a cool £21 million in the January transfer window to resign Nemanja Matić from Benfica, with the money looking well-spent almost immediately.
The Serb moved to the London club as a promising youngster in 2009, but his first stint in England was blighted by injury and a lack of opportunities to show just what he was capable of.
Two appearances in the Premier League, a loan move to the Blues’ ‘feeder club’ Vitesse and a 2011 sale marked a largely uneventful and botched spell in England for the eastern European midfielder.
The midfielder has always been blessed with technical ability, but the first observation of his play since returning to Chelsea is his no-nonsense, physically dominant showings that characterised his time in Portugal.
Matić was given plenty of opportunity to play European football with the Portuguese powerhouses and became a fulcrum of the Benfica side. Despite the star-studded nature of the squad he has recently moved to, the 25-year-old looks already like a leader for Chelsea.
Chelsea have long been linked with a move for a world-class striker, which many have described as the missing player to take the club to the next level. However, a dominant, rounded central midfielder was also missing and has been added with Matic’s reintroduction.
The Stamford Bridge club’s fanbase has nicknamed Matić ‘the beast’ – and it is not difficult to see why.
Arguably the yardstick for any Premier League central midfielder is taking on Manchester City’s Yaya Touré, who is unanimously adjudged as the most dominant player in the position in English football.
However, in Chelsea’s 1-0 win at the Etihad stadium recently, Matić put in a defining performance to not only nullify the powerful Ivorian, but eclipse him with an outstanding performance.
The air of security that the eastern European brings in that holding role ahead of the team’s back four is priceless, while his aura and dominance in personal battles in practically every game he has played since his return change Chelsea’s dynamic.
With Matić to play an important role in the development of an immensely talented young generation of Serbian players, the midfielder looks set to be a real star for club and country going forward.
The Blues will certainly be there or thereabouts come May, with the likes of Eden Hazard and other attacking stars sure to receive the plaudits if and when they pick up silverware.
However, the reintroduction of a markedly improved Matić makes playing Chelsea an even-more daunting task for opponents, with the west London side adding a player capable of being the best in the world in his position if his progression continues at its current rate.