Manchester United are better placed to defeat Manchester City in the EFL Cup semi-finals this year than they were last, according to Nemanja Matic.

Matic played the full game as late strikes from Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial gave United a 2-0 away win over Everton in Wednesday's quarter-final.

The draw immediately after the tie pitted them against rivals City once more, while Championship side Brentford will face Tottenham in the other last-four contest.

City defeated United 3-2 on aggregate in last season's semi-finals despite a goal from Matic, with Pep Guardiola's team going on to win the competition for a third straight year.

In a one-off tie this year, Matic is optimistic there will be a different outcome.

"This time I hope we will use our chance; we will do our best," Matic said to MUTV.

"I think that we are now in a better condition, a better moment. 

"We play better football than last year, in my opinion. I'm very confident."

This is the 16th time United have reached the last four, second only to Liverpool (17) in the competition's history.

United, who have won all nine of their domestic away matches so far in 2020-21 and 14 in a row dating back to last season, made a fast start at Goodison Park.

They remained on top in the second half – when Everton failed to register a single shot on target - but it was not until a wonderful strike from Cavani two minutes from time that they finally moved ahead.

Matic had the most pass attempts (103) and successful passes (93) on the pitch, while also having the most passes in the opposition half (52) and best success rate in that category among the 22 starters (88.5 per cent).

But he felt there were so many good performers on the night.

Alongside Matic in midfield, Paul Pogba continued his United revival by creating three chances, tied for a game high with team-mate Alex Telles.

Matic added: "Was it frustrating we hadn't scored before half-time? Yes, especially after the first 10 to 15 minutes. We had a lot of chances. 

"We hit the post, some the keeper saved, but that's football. Sometimes you score, sometimes not, but the most important thing was that we kept that level of football for 90 minutes. 

"We controlled the game and, at the end, the most important thing is [that we are in the] semi-finals.

"Everyone did a great job. I'm happy with everyone who played. Let's keep this momentum and this level of football.

"I think everyone who supports Manchester United is happy, because to come here to Goodison Park, it's not easy to control 90 minutes, and I think we did it.

"We didn't allow them to create a lot of chances. So I think that we absolutely deserve to be in the semi-finals, and with some fantastic football also. 

"We scored two goals, we created a lot of chances. I'm happy with everything that we saw in our team."

Nemanja Matic believes Manchester United can challenge for the Premier League title, claiming that, for the Red Devils, "every game is the game of our lives".

United came from behind to win 3-2 at bottom club Sheffield United on Thursday to move within two points of second-place Tottenham, with a game in hand.

Two goals from Marcus Rashford and one from Anthony Martial saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side become just the fourth team in English top-flight history to record 10 consecutive away league wins.

They have also scored at least twice in 10 away league matches, the longest such run in the top tier since Spurs did so in October 1960.

United would be just two points behind leaders Liverpool if they win their match in hand against Burnley and, although they have won just one of their past eight league games at Old Trafford, Matic is confident they can battle the champions for glory.

"Yeah I think so," he told United media when asked if United can win a first league title since 2013.

"I always say if you want to win a title, you have to win five or six consecutive games - then you can drop some points in maybe one or two games. Then you have to win five or six games again to win the league.

"We have to forget the game [against Sheffield United] and focus for the next one. For us, every game is a final. Every game is the game of our lives for us. I believe that we can do something."

Solskjaer's men fell behind at Bramall Lane when David McGoldrick scored following an error from goalkeeper Dean Henderson, but they recovered to move 3-1 ahead through Rashford and Martial.

Rashford's second proved pivotal given McGoldrick bundled in with three minutes of normal time remaining to set up a nervy finish.

"Up front, they played some amazing football," Matic said of his attacking team-mates. "We scored very nice goals, but that's exactly what we expect from them.

"That's why they are Man United players: they have to decide the games; they have to make the game easier for us to score goals and to create, so I'm not surprised."

If rumours are to be believed, Hakan Calhanoglu is tipped to swap Milan for Manchester United at the end of the season.

Calhanoglu is out of contract in June and the midfielder's negotiations with Milan over a new deal at San Siro have so far proven fruitless.

Up step United, who according to Sport Bild, are "90 per cent likely" to sign the 26-year-old Turkey international – Serie A champions Juventus and Inter have also been linked.

Calhanoglu has been rejuvenated under head coach Stefano Pioli as Milan enjoy an unbeaten start to the Serie A season, but how does he compare to stars Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and United's current crop of midfielders?

For example, Calhanoglu completed 668 passes ending in the final third last season – more than Fred (476), Fernandes (408), Nemanja Matic (354), Pogba (343), Scott McTominay (273) and Juan Mata (246).

Calhanoglu – who has called Milan home since leaving Bayer Leverkusen in 2017 – created 70 chances in 2019-20 to go with nine goals and as many assists. By comparison, Fred led United with 35.

With help from Opta, we look at the numbers of Calhanoglu and potential new team-mates in their respective leagues in 2020-21.

 

Hakan Calhanoglu

Games: 9
Goals: 0
Shooting accuracy: 31.25
Shots on target: 5
Assists: 1
Goal assist at set play: 1
Chances created: 34
Passing accuracy: 85.79
Crosses/corner accuracy: 35.21
Passes ending in final third: 168
Passing accuracy ending in final third: 77.38

Bruno Fernandes

Games: 9
Goals: 7
Shooting accuracy: 66.67
Shots on target: 14
Assists: 3
Goal assist at set play: 0
Chances created: 27
Passing accuracy: 75.74
Crosses/corner accuracy: 31.48
Passes ending in final third: 264
Passing accuracy ending in final third: 68.94

Paul Pogba

Games: 7
Goals: 0
Shooting accuracy: 66.67
Shots on target: 2
Assists: 0
Goal assist at set play: 0
Chances created: 2
Passing accuracy: 79.92
Crosses/corner accuracy: 0
Passes ending in final third: 97
Passing accuracy ending in final third: 72.16

Fred

Games: 8
Goals: 0
Shooting accuracy: 0
Shots on target: 0
Assists: 0
Goal assist at set play: 0
Chances created: 6
Passing accuracy: 89.24
Crosses/corner accuracy: 0
Passes ending in final third: 98
Passing accuracy ending in final third: 80.61

Scott McTominay

Games: 7
Goals: 0
Shooting accuracy: 0
Shots on target: 0
Assists: 0
Goal assist at set play: 0
Chances created: 8
Passing accuracy: 86.87
Crosses/corner accuracy: 25
Passes ending in final third: 66
Passing accuracy ending in final third: 72.73

Donny van de Beek

Games: 7
Goals: 1
Shooting accuracy: 100
Shots on target: 1
Assists: 0
Goal assist at set play: 0
Chances created: 1
Passing accuracy: 83.78
Crosses/corner accuracy: N/A
Passes ending in final third: 49
Passing accuracy ending in final third: 71.43

Nemanja Matic

Games: 6
Goals: 0
Shooting accuracy: 100
Shots on target: 2
Assists: 0
Goal assist at set play: 0
Chances created: 3
Passing accuracy: 87.58
Crosses/corner accuracy: N/A
Passes ending in final third: 73
Passing accuracy ending in final third: 78.08

Juan Mata

Games: 4
Goals: 0
Shooting accuracy: 100
Shots on target: 2
Assists: 1
Goal assist at set play: 1
Chances created: 7
Passing accuracy: 87.5
Crosses/corner accuracy: 36.36
Passes ending in final third: 72
Passing accuracy ending in final third: 86.11 

Nemanja Matic wants Manchester United to kill opponents off when they have the chance after struggling West Brom made them work for a 1-0 victory on Saturday.

The win was United's first in the Premier League at Old Trafford since July and came with a slice of VAR fortune after an incident-packed start to the second half.

Bruno Fernandes was penalised for a foul on Conor Gallagher in the United box, only for the decision to be overturned when referee David Coote reviewed replays on the pitchside monitor.

Fernandes then had the chance to score from the spot himself, at which point the Portugal midfielder earned another reprieve.

Replays showed West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone came off his line to save Fernandes' initial effort and the United playmaker made no mistake from the retake.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were unable to build upon that slender advantage against an Albion side still without a win nine games into their top-flight return.

Johnstone was in inspired form against his former club, making six saves over the course of the 90 minutes, but Matic feels his team-mates could show more cutting edge.

"When we score first, we have to go on and kill the game as soon as possible, especially in the Premier League. We have to improve on that," he told MUTV.

"Every team has quality, every team is dangerous. One-nil is not enough. They almost scored, they had one [shot] hit the crossbar. So, they were always dangerous.

"We have to make sure that next time we have more concentration in attack and make sure we try to kill the game early."

On Opta's big chance conversion metric this season, United actually perform fairly well, converting 57.1 per cent – the seventh-best return in the Premier League and only half a percentage point shy of reigning champions Liverpool.

Leaders Tottenham have netted 62.1 per cent of their big chances, while out-of-sorts Manchester City, who United leapfrogged as they moved into the top half on Saturday, rank 19th with 26.7 per cent.

United's numbers suggest Matic might soon be more impressed by their efforts in front of goal, although the Serbia international insists there is only one statistic that truly interests him.

"Wins are the most important, of course, because at the end of the season nobody will ask you how you played, if you were amazing. The most important is you collect points," he added.

"Manchester United want to win titles and our aim is to be in first position and we will do everything for that. We can do that only as a team."

Manchester United star Nemanja Matic believes the Red Devils can win the Premier League, warning there are no excuses in 2020-21.

United enjoyed a 14-match unbeaten streak to finish third in the Premier League last season, behind champions Liverpool and Manchester City.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United, who reached the semi-finals of the Europa League, FA Cup and EFL Cup in 2019-20, also qualified for the Champions League for the first time since 2017-18.

United finished 33 points adrift of rivals Liverpool, but veteran midfielder Matic is bullish about the club's chances heading into the new campaign.

"From the next season there is no excuses," Matic told the UTD Podcast. "We have to go with everything. We have to fight for the title because I felt that this year we dropped some points too easy. 

"We allowed Liverpool to win [the title], I don't know, 10 games before the season finished. They won the league, so we cannot allow that. We need to fight to the end. We have to play with more confidence, with more responsibility. 

"My personal target is to win the league with United and I am sure that everyone wants to do the same. We have to promise our supporters that we will do our best - exactly what we have done after [the coronavirus lockdown] when we started to play again. That's Manchester United. 

"We have to win five, six consecutive games then you can drop some points, then again you have to do that run. Like that we can win the league. In the beginning of the season we were not stable, we won one or two games then we lost and we drew.

"Proper United is exactly what we did after [lockdown] and I hope we can continue like that next season."

 

Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic has retired from international football, according to Serbia's sporting director Vladimir Matijasevic.

Reports began to circulate on Thursday claiming Matic had opted to quit Serbia despite being named in their most recent squad.

Matijasevic, who works as a director for the Football Association of Serbia (FSS), confirmed the decision on Friday.

He claims Matic has brought his international career to a close to allow for younger players to have prominence in the senior side.

Matic, 32, played 48 times for Serbia since 2008 and represented them at the 2018 World Cup, but he will now give United his sole focus.

"When I came to the FSS, I talked to [Aleksandar] Mitrovic, [Luka] Milivojevic and Matic," Matijasevic is quoted as saying by Serbian publication Tanjug.

"Nemanja said then that he would return, but he had some decisions of his own that have nothing to do with us.

"We talked a few days ago, I called him on the phone, we also agreed to have coffee if our time and obligations allowed it.

"It was an extremely pleasant conversation. He is determined to put an end to his national team career.

"He did not state more specific reasons – he knows why this is the case and pointed out that it is time for younger players to take his place.

"I repeat, it was not persuasion, but only a conversation. I respect his opinion. He is 32 years old, he had a difficult season behind him, it is necessary to have understanding.

"The selector [Ljubisa Tumbakovic] also talked to him, about which you will surely hear more at the press conference on Monday. This is Nemanja's decision, we must respect that."

Matic's days at United looked numbered towards the start of the 2019-20 season as he showed significant signs of decline and the improvement of younger players such as Fred and Scott McTominay led to reduced playing time.

But the former Chelsea midfielder enjoyed a resurgence after the turn of the year, with 15 of his 18 Premier League starts last term coming in 2020.

He was then handed a new three-year contract in July, a reward for particularly fine form following the Premier League's return from the coronavirus-enforced hiatus.

Nemanja Matic has vowed Manchester United cannot present youth as an excuse if they fail to challenge for next season's Premier League title.

The Serbian midfielder twice won the English league title while at Chelsea, and he joined United in 2017 with the aim of chasing more silverware.

Yet in three years at Old Trafford, Matic, who turned 32 on Saturday, has yet to capture a trophy with United.

United remain in the hunt to win the Europa League later this month, but the Premier League is their prime target, particularly given it is neighbours Manchester City and fierce rivals Liverpool who have been setting the highest standards.

The Red Devils finished the 2019-20 domestic season strongly under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with young players such as Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Aaron Wan-Bissaka prominent.

But United's squad is chock-full of experience too, so in Matic's eyes there is no reason for them not to battle for top honours.

He told Inside United, the club's official magazine: "I would like to win the Premier League with Manchester United. I think that our club always needs to fight for the title.

"We always need to try to do the best for this club, which we are doing at the moment, and I think we cannot allow any club to win the league seven or 10 games before the season finishes. So we have to fight until the end."

Liverpool had seven games to spare when they clinched the Premier League title in June, and United ended the season 33 points adrift of their perennial foes, despite going 14 matches unbeaten in the competition at the end of the campaign.

"Of course, we have a young team, but this cannot be an excuse," Matic said. "I think these young players already have a few seasons behind them playing.

"So, from the next season, we have to fight for the title. I don't know if we're going to win [the title] but I'm sure that we can fight until the end.

"That's my personal target and I think the rest of my team-mates think the same."

Milos Ninkovic believes Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is perfectly suited to the Premier League as he compared the in-demand Lazio star to Paul Pogba.

Milinkovic-Savic has long been linked with a Lazio exit following his exploits for the Serie A side, where he arrived from Genk in 2015.

Chelsea, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Juventus and Inter have all emerged as reported suitors for the Serbia international midfielder.

As speculation grows over Milinkovic-Savic's future in the Italian capital, former Serbia international Ninkovic feels it is time for the 25-year-old to leave Lazio.

"He is an unbelievable talent," Ninkovic, who now plays for Sydney FC in Australia, told Stats Perform News. "Probably one of the best midfielders in Italy. He reminds me of [United star] Pogba, he is that type of player because he is good on the ball, tall, strong, can score outside of the box and he is good in the air.

"For him, the most important thing is to be happy. If he is happy at Lazio, he should stay there. But if he wants a different challenge, than he definitely needs to leave. They talk about PSG, Man Utd… but it depends on how he feels.

"I think if he makes the right choice, he will be one of the best midfielders in the world.

"Personally, I think he needs a new challenge in his career because he's spent three or four years at Lazio. It's hard when that's the first time in the last years they're fighting for the Scudetto and probably next season it will be the same or fourth or fifth. For him it would be better if he can go somewhere else to play Champions League as well.

"Of course it also depends on his president and how much he wants. Especially now after coronavirus, everything won't be like before in terms of transfer fees and salaries."

Milinkovic-Savic has scored five goals and supplied four assists in Serie A this season and Ninkovic, 35, added: "I think England is perfect for him. Even France, when you have good players around you it's much easier to play.

"If he goes to Manchester United, Real Madrid or PSG, there's not much of a difference because they're all good players there. It will be even much easier for him, I think he will score more goals and supply more assists."

Another Serbian player in the headlines recently has been United midfielder Nemanja Matic following his form for the Red Devils.

Out of favour and looking set for a move away from Old Trafford at the start of the season, Matic has forced his way back into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's plans and signed a new three-year contract.

Ninkovic played alongside Matic for Serbia and he hailed his 31-year-old compatriot, saying: "I spoke with him maybe a month ago. Obviously he didn't know anything and he said he would like to stay. I'm very happy for him because he is an unbelievable player and a very nice guy which is the most important thing.

"But I thought maybe there was a chance if he didn't re-sign that he could come to Australia. Maybe we will have to wait two or three more years. Maybe now it's easier for him because they started to play with one six and two eights or 10s, which is much better for him. We used to play that formation in the national team and he was unbelievable.

"You need to be strong mentally, especially at Manchester United with so many great players."

United, who sat fifth in the Premier League ahead of Thursday's trip to Crystal Palace, have strung together an 18-game unbeaten streak across all competitions, with Matic, Pogba and Bruno Fernandes earning plaudits.

Ninkovic believes the Red Devils now boast a better midfield than champions Liverpool and can challenge for the title next season.

"I think they needed some player like Fernandes and now they have Pogba, Fernandes and Matic in the middle," Ninkovic said. "I think they have one of the best midfields in the Premier League – maybe Manchester City [have the best]. I would say a better midfield than Liverpool.

"Probably they will try to sign one or two more players and definitely they will fight for the title."

David de Gea is one of the best goalkeepers in the world having saved Manchester United many times in his career, according to team-mate Nemanja Matic.

After a shaky start to life at Old Trafford following his arrival from Atletico Madrid, Spaniard De Gea became a pivotal part of a United team in transition, winning player of the year for three successive seasons.

However a slip in his previously lofty standards has led to greater scrutiny on his performances, with former Red Devils skipper Roy Keane even declaring he was "sick to death" of the keeper following Tottenham's goal in the 1-1 draw back in June.

Commenting on Steven Bergwijn's opener on Sky Sports' live coverage of the Premier League fixture, Keane said: "I would be fighting him at half-time. I would be swinging punches at that guy."

However, speaking to Stats Perform News, Matic explained that while he understands the role of those working in the media, De Gea remains in the top tier at his position.

"I didn't see what he [Keane] said but I think we have to agree David is one of the best goalkeepers in the world," the United midfielder said  

"He has saved us many times, saved points. Everyone is allowed to have mistakes - we are human.  

"The pundits, their job is to say their opinions. They have to speak because one team loses. No problem - we respect them, and we will always try to improve."

De Gea kept three clean sheets in four league outings after the draw with Spurs, though he was beaten twice as United drew with Southampton on Monday in his 400th appearance for the club.

The result saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side miss the chance to climb into third place in the table above Chelsea, who duly won 24 hours later against Norwich City to increase the gap to four points.

Frank Lampard has the Blues on course to qualify for the Champions League and while in direct competition for a top-four finish with his old club, Matic is impressed at the job done by his former team-mate at Stamford Bridge.

"I am happy for [Frank Lampard], I have to say that he is doing good. Of course we are fighting with them for that Champions League spot, but I have to be honest and say that I am happy he is doing great, because he is a great, great guy," Matic said. 

"I played with him when I signed for Chelsea in 2009, he was one of the best midfielders in the world, so when I trained with him he was a big example for me as a professional and I am happy for him after being a player, he's continued to do a great job as a manager.

"I wish him all the best, but of course this season I wish to be ahead of him in the Champions League spots."

Bruno Fernandes' start at Manchester United has shocked Nemanja Matic, who did not expect the Portugal international to adapt to life at Old Trafford so quickly.

United are unbeaten in 18 games across all competitions having been boosted by the arrival of Fernandes from Sporting CP in January after a lengthy transfer saga.

The midfielder has more than lived up to the hype, scoring seven goals and adding a further seven assists in just 11 Premier League outings.

Fernandes was short of his brilliant best in Monday's dramatic 2-2 home draw with Southampton, but still laid on an assist for Anthony Martial.

His immediate importance to United has been acknowledged by midfield colleague Matic, who knew United were getting a capable player from the Primeira Liga, but did not expect him to shine so quickly.

"Obviously he is a player with a lot of quality," Matic said to Stats Perform News.

"I have to say that he was the best player in Sporting Lisbon, one of the biggest Portuguese clubs. 

"To play and be the best player of Sporting is not easy, because there is a lot of pressure on you, there is a big expectation from the supporters to play for that club.

"I know because I played for Benfica, so the pressure is high and when you play on that level there then you are ready for the Premier League. 

"I didn't expect him to adapt that quick, I knew that he will be good for us but he adapted from the first minute that he stepped on the pitch - he was great.

"I like him because he wants to take responsibility, he always looks to receive the ball, he always finds good space to receive the ball and to hurt the opponent. It is always good to play with him." 

Matic continued: "If we take risks from the back and lose the ball we are in trouble, for him and in his position he needs to take the risks because we bought him because of that.

"He is doing well, he takes the risk and it is very important that when he takes the risk 50 per cent of the time he is successful.

"He is a player with quality, and of course when he takes a risk I am not afraid that he is going to do bad, most of the time he is going to do it correctly."

While Fernandes has impressed Matic, he stressed the whole team deserved credit for United's impressive revival under Ole Gunnnar Solskjaer this season.

"If I mention him then I have to say the rest of the squad is also great," added Matic, who signed a new contract with United this month.

"At the moment everyone is playing well, everyone is ready and the games we played these last few months is teamwork.

"I think everyone on the pitch is doing great. Everyone on the pitch knows their job, so hopefully we can continue like that."

Nemanja Matic is optimistic Paul Pogba will remain with Manchester United "for a long time".

The Serbian has formed an impressive midfield trio with Pogba and Bruno Fernandes since the Premier League's resumption, helping United extend their unbeaten run to 18 matches in all competitions.

Pogba's future at United has long been the subject of intense speculation, with comments from his agent Mino Raiola causing controversy earlier in a 2019-20 season where he struggled with injury.

But the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the club's upturn in form since the World Cup winner returned to the pitch to join new signing Fernandes have led to increased hopes he will stay.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has expressed confidence that Pogba – who is contracted until 2021 with the option for a further year – would sign a new deal and Matic thinks his team-mate is enjoying life at the club.

"I think at the moment he is happy," Matic, who himself signed fresh terms with United this month, said to Stats Perform News.

"When you are injured and outside of the pitch people will always talk and rumours will always be around him, but he can do anything. 

"As soon as he came back to training with us and playing I think he has shown that he is happy to play football and he is a great guy. 

"I think for me it is very important that Paul stays because that gives us more quality. Also, with his personality, he brings a lot to the team. 

"Of course, you never know what is going to happen in life but I see him happy at the moment.

"I wish for him to stay, I wish for the team. It is good he is a great guy for the group there is always fun around him. I will be happy to see him for a long time at Manchester United."

Pogba said this week United felt like "a proper team" again and he does not think they can be stopped if they continue on their current path.

He also praised the balance of the starting XI under Solskjaer and Matic feels the arrival of Fernandes is what has helped get the best out of Pogba.

Matic added: "With him and Bruno, I think that Paul can now, in my opinion, do what is his job.

"He is the player and kind of midfielder that can play box to box, he is not only an attacking midfielder like people were thinking. 

"He is a box to box player because he is strong, he can run, he can shoot, he can also defend very well, he can read the headers. 

"So now with Bruno, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, when they play in front of him, then in my opinion he can do the best.

"He is a player for everything, so I don't think he is a typical playmaker to be behind the strikers, but that player like a number eight, box to box.

"For me he is one of the best players in the world. So, I expect him next season to be even better, but what we saw in the few games of him [after the restart] he was absolutely fantastic, a proper player."

Nemanja Matic believes in-form Manchester United team-mate Anthony Martial is on course to become one of the best strikers in the world. 

Martial has scored 20 goals in a season for the first time since joining United in a big-money move from Monaco in 2015. 

The France international has played a major part in the Red Devils' resurgence this term, claiming the first hat-trick of his career in the Premier League victory over Sheffield United last month. 

Martial has not consistently hit the heights and suffered injury problems during his time at Old Trafford, though has shown what he can produce during United's 17-match unbeaten run. 

Midfielder Matic says the 24-year-old deserves huge credit for his desire to improve and feels there is still more to come. 

He told Stats Perform News: "A good game for one football player doesn't come [just] like that. It's hard work. 

"Anthony [Martial], in the last year or year and a half, I have seen him working a lot, trying to improve in every part of the game. 

"Of course, then on the pitch that gives you more and you deserve it. Anthony is doing great. In training sessions, he is fighting for every ball, trying to help team-mates. 

"Even when we don't have the ball he's trying to defend. He's doing fantastic. I think that if he continues like this, he'll be one of the best strikers or attacking players in the world. 

"[He is] still young, still young I have to say, [there's] still a lot to improve and time works for him, so he just needs to continue to work like this." 

'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.


There had already been murmurings of a potential superstar coming through Manchester United's academy, but in December 2018, the noise around Mason Greenwood became that bit louder.

Chelsea had been unbeaten in the FA Youth Cup since 2013 before Greenwood was unleashed on them, the then-17-year-old netting a hat-trick in a 4-3 win.

That treble showcased much of what is deemed special about Greenwood. For his first, he chased down the goalkeeper, forced an error and then showed composure to fire past him and a defender on the line.

He doubled his tally from just inside the area, racing on to a throughball and coolly placing a right-footed effort into the bottom-right corner after creating space with a stepover.

His hat-trick was completed with another fine effort. After beating a defender to an underhit pass, he ran at the centre-back, darted to his left and picking out the far corner with his left foot.

Work-rate, close control, exceptional finishing and remarkable ability on either foot – it was all evidence of a complete centre-forward in-the-making.

Fittingly, Greenwood's dazzling display came the day after Jose Mourinho's final match in charge of the first-team – the teenager's promise a hopeful ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy period for the club.

Matic in awe of teenager

Fast-forward 19 months, Greenwood has played 42 times for United in 2019-20, while his recent form has led to suggestions he will surely be in England's squad for the delayed European Championships next year.

Not only has Greenwood made a strong impression on fans and pundits, but his team-mates are also well aware of his prodigious talents. Nemanja Matic has seen a particularly significant development in him this year alone.

Matic told Stats Perform News: "There are not many players his age of that level – he has this natural instinct for goals.

"There is a big difference from now from to six months ago. He is young and he is changing, and his approach to training and to everything is different. He's a great person, great for the changing room.

"He is quiet, I have to say, but the boy is always very positive and we are happy to have him in the team."

Mourinho's ousting and the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had previously coached young players at the club, was seen as a potentially critical moment for the next generation coming through at Old Trafford.

While it's impossible to know how Greenwood's career would have progressed with Mourinho, it is fair to suggest he wouldn't have given him his first-team debut in a Champions League knockout clash away to Paris Saint-Germain with United chasing a goal to secure an historic turnaround.

Greenwood then made his first start on the final day of the 2018-19 season. Although United suffered a dire 2-0 home defeat to relegated Cardiff City, the teenager was comfortably the best player on the pitch.

From that point, it almost seemed a certainty Greenwood was to become a regular squad member this term, and he's finally cemented a place on the right side of the attack since football's resumption.

The new Van Persie? Or Robben?

Greenwood's build, running style and technique have drawn understandable comparisons with former United star Robin van Persie, though he reminds Matic more of another Dutchman.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on the lad, but if I had to say someone [Greenwood reminds me of], it would be [Arjen] Robben," Matic said.

However, some might argue Greenwood is poised to become even more of a nuisance to defenders given his unpredictable skillset – after all, much has been said about Greenwood's ambipedal abilities, and in the United youth teams he was known to take free-kicks and penalties with either foot.

While being "two-footed" is by no means a rare concept, Greenwood does appear to be a special case. His recent goals against Bournemouth and Aston Villa are proof of that, with the England Under-21 international hitting two ferocious efforts into the net with his supposedly weaker right foot.

Such unpredictability can only help Greenwood, while Matic also feels having someone like Marcus Rashford in the team will give the teenager a good example to follow.

"I think that when he has seen players who came through the academy, he has seen Marcus as a role model and he has tried to follow those steps, it was easier too for him to see that someone can achieve big things coming from the academy, so I am happy for him," he added.

Best and Rooney in touching distance

"It is important to have players from the academy," continued Matic, a firm believer of giving opportunities to youngsters. "They are making big players, good people, it's important they are good people for the changing room."

But the Serbian stressed the need for those players to be ready for the opportunities, adding: "The expectation from our fans is high and they have to be ready to play at the highest level."

It's fair to say no one is doubting Greenwood's credentials anymore, and the data highlights his impressive early impact.

With 16 goals, he is United's third-highest scorer this term behind Rashford and Anthony Martial, both of whom have 20, but Greenwood nets with a more impressive frequency at one every 129 minutes (Rashford – 142 mins, Martial – 147).

His conversion rate of 22 percent is identical to Martial's and an improvement on Rashford's 17 per cent, but it's in the expected goals (xG) metric where Greenwood's finishing abilities are best highlighted.

From the chances that have fallen to him, Greenwood would ordinarily be expected to have scored eight times this season, but his actual goals haul is double that.

By comparison, Martial's xG is five under his actual total at 15 and Rashford's is 23, three higher than the 20 he has scored.

Add to that, he is just two goals shy of setting a new record for goals scored by a teenager for United in a single season (George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney all got 17).

"The players that have come through, Marcus and Mason, they have come with a lot of qualities and are ready at the highest level and [this] shows the academy can work well."

Matic's assessment appears to be on the money – as does Greenwood.

Nemanja Matic is enthused by the young talent that has fired Manchester United's revival but believes more improvement is needed to challenge for the Premier League title.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side are enjoying an unbeaten run in all competitions that stretches back to January 22.

Since the Premier League's return from lockdown, United have been in electrifying form, with breakout displays from teenage forward Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes' galvanising effect to the fore.

Matic claimed Premier League glory in 2014-15 and 2016-17 at Chelsea and feels United and their exciting attack must continue to realise their potential more fully if they are to dethrone Liverpool.

"I have to be honest: it was not always easy to be in our team because we had a lot of young players, with no experience of playing at the highest level," he told Stats Perform News.

"But that was a period of transition of our team and I think in the last few years many players matured a lot.

"I have to mention [Marcus] Rashford, [Anthony] Martial, Greenwood, so many players matured a lot. They know they have a lot of responsibility; they play every game.

"I am happy to see them improving, taking responsibility and I am sure this team can only improve.

"It was difficult for us in the past because we were inconsistent, but I think the team is ready, more experienced. If we can improve 10 or 20 per cent more then we can challenge for the title next season."

Chelsea's 3-0 defeat at Sheffield United on Saturday has left the door ajar to the top four and United will go above Frank Lampard's men if they beat Southampton on Monday.

"We are fighting, we are playing, we want to finish in the top four. There are only four games left but we are there," Matic said.

"We are fighting with Chelsea and Leicester [City] for that position, we know it's going to be hard, but we will try and win every game until the end. We want to win the Europa League and the FA Cup."

Chelsea are also in United's way in next weekend's FA Cup semi-finals, while a 5-0 first-leg lead over LASK means they can expect to contest a Europa League quarter-final against Istanbul Basaksehir or Copenhagen next month.

Lifting the Europa League, as they did in 2016-17, of course represents another route into the Champions League if required.

"I don't think it adds more pressure, but it does give you more chances to play in the Champions League," Matic said.

"I think it's great what they did that clubs have an opportunity to fight for the Champions League.

"Also, a trophy is a trophy and we want to win, we can show our kids one day, every trophy is important to us."

The likelihood is that VAR decisions will come under the microscope once again as United contest the closing weeks of the season with all to play for.

Nevertheless, Matic is broadly a fan of the much-maligned system, although he feels breaks in play could be speeded up.

"I think it is better with VAR," he added. "Before, when referees made mistakes, it was finished.

"Now with the VAR they reduce the mistakes. There will always be mistakes because we are human, but I believe it will reduce the mistakes, so I support it.

"It needs to be faster. In the game against Bournemouth [United's recent 5-2 Premier League win] we had to wait too long.

"It's not easy to decide quickly but if they could improve more then it would be perfect."

Nemanja Matic earning a three-year contract extension to the widespread approval of the Old Trafford faithful would have seemed a fanciful state of affairs a year ago.

Like most of a lumpen midfield assortment, Matic suffered during Jose Mourinho's tenure and seemed to represent a chunk of the deadwood Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have to move on as part of his rebuilding process.

The 31-year-old has looked a player transformed this season, already putting in some quality work alongside a rapidly developing Scott McTominay and a much-improved Fred.

Bruno Fernandes' January arrival provided the club with a shot in the arm and Matic now finds himself as the classy enforcer in something approaching a fantasy midfield three alongside the Portugal star and a fit-again Paul Pogba.

A new contract was firmly on the cards for the former Chelsea man before "Project Restart" launched and Opta data shows how some fine performances during this short period of time have sealed the deal.

93.8 – Matic has completed almost 94 per cent of his passes in four appearances since the resumption, including an assist for Mason Greenwood during the 5-2 thrashing of Bournemouth. Compared to some of the other leading lights in his position in the Premier League, that places Matic alongside Liverpool's Fabinho (93.5 per cent), while he pulls up a little tidier than Chelsea's N'Golo Kante (90.2). Typically for a Manchester City holding midfielder, 96.1 per cent of Rodri's passes have found the target.

77.8 – Matic's percentage success in duels is up considerably from 56.6 per cent this season before lockdown. The fact he has contested 18, compared to 35 for Fabinho (60 per cent won), 30 for Kante (50 per cent won) and 31 for Rodri (45.2 per cent won) hints towards the dominant nature of United's performances at present.

37 – This season, Matic's displays have been shorn of the lethargy that afflicted him at times last term. He averages a tackle every 37 minutes, a slight increase in output from one every 40 before lockdown. That's comfortably more frequent than the famously all-action Kante (58 minutes per tackle) and Rodri (63.8 minutes per tackle)

108 – Over the course of 16 appearances this season, Matic has recovered possession 108 times. His minutes-per-recovery figures have remained consistent, 11.2 and 11.8 either side of the break. McTominay has knocked his number down from 11.8 to 9.6 minutes per interception since June, while Fred has made one every 7.2 minutes – the Brazilian's two English summertime outings amounting to 86 minutes in total.

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