Man United's loss to Tottenham shines light on overworked Nemanja Matic
In the opening weeks of the season, social media was awash with Manchester United supporters thanking Chelsea for selling them Nemanja Matic.
Hailed as "the missing piece of the puzzle," the Serbia international put in top-quality performances and provided United with the balance they needed. Not only was he effective in protecting the defence, but he also contributed significantly to the attack.
At the beginning of October, United had the same number of points as Manchester City at the top of the table with a goal difference inferior by one. It appeared then as though the Premier League was going to have a genuine challenge between the two Manchester sides.
Missing Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly for months of the season hasn't helped United, but they are clearly the inferior side to their crosstown rivals now. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, given how much the Blues spent over the summer, but it was a bit of a shock to United fans who had hoped the second year with Jose Mourinho would bring back the glory days.
It hasn't worked out that way, and United's 2-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday was arguably their worst performance under Mourinho.
Matic, who had been a shining star in the opening months of the campaign, was atrocious. He wasn't alone in this regard and Mourinho's formation didn't help him, but he was outrun and outfought in the centre of midfield and was sloppy in possession.
Some United fans have been on his back for some time. While his performances of late haven't matched the early days in his career at Old Trafford, his displays have been adequate enough. But the showing at Spurs was a real low for him.
However, considering that Matic has started every Premier League game this season, it's little wonder that the 29-year-old is beginning to tire. Matic has missed just half an hour of action in the league this season -- which came when he was substituted off with an injury in United's 4-2 win away to Watford. Four days later, he was back in the starting lineup for United's win over Arsenal.
Marouane Fellaini's injuries and Ander Herrera's decline in form have meant that Mourinho has had fewer options, yet Matic should have been rotated more than he has been.
The Manchester Evening News reported on Friday that Matic has been carrying an injury for the past six weeks, since his withdrawal at Vicarage Road, which adds further explanation to his waning form.
If Matic is dropped from the starting lineup for the weekend game against Huddersfield, people will be quick to claim that Mourinho is punishing the player. The truth is that his performance against Spurs should have served as a message to the manager that Matic is desperate for a rest.
Fellaini exacerbated his knee injury during his cameo appearance at Wembley on Wednesday, so Mourinho's options are limited again, but Herrera should be called up and given a further opportunity to prove himself as the player who was voted as the club's best last season.
Matic is a quality player, possibly the best defensive midfielder in the league, but he's not Superman and he deserves a day off to get himself in good shape for the important Champions League game against Sevilla. When he's on form, he makes a huge impact on the way United play, and Mourinho needs to allow him to regenerate for the more significant games ahead.
Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.