Analysis

Kovacic: We must wake up, improve and focus

Mateo Kovacic has called on his Chelsea team-mates to wake up and rediscover their form from earlier in the season if our target of Champions League qualification is to be achieved this term.

The Croatian was speaking in the aftermath of a 2-0 home defeat to Manchester United in which familiar problems resurfaced as we played well but failed to take chances and conceded costly goals.

Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire were the United scorers, heading in either side of half-time, and Kovacic reflected on that familiar feeling of a positive performance not translating into a positive result.

‘We played well in the beginning but it’s always the same against United - we play good, we create chances, we don’t score and then they score from one opportunity,’ he said, referencing previous defeats to the Red Devils this campaign in the league and Carabao Cup.

‘We don’t have the three points and that’s the most important thing. It was a good game from us, we played well, like we have for more or less the whole season, but we made some silly mistakes and we lost the points.

‘We are still a very young team and we need to improve a lot. Now we will see if we are a great team because we have some tough matches to fight for the fourth position and we need to show ourselves.’

VAR was once again a central talking point from the evening’s action as two Chelsea goals were ruled out by the video officials in Stockley Park, while a foul by Maguire in the first half that Frank Lampard felt warranted a red card went unpunished.

Kovacic did not want to get drawn on specific incidents but admitted the decisions stole crucial momentum from us, with the disallowed goals coming at 0-1 and 0-2 in the contest.

‘I don’t like to comment on the referee’s decisions because it’s difficult for them as well,’ he added. ‘VAR is here and if it was offside then you can do nothing about it. Of course, it’s difficult for us because we scored twice.

‘You score at 2-1 and you are in the game but then it’s a foul. It’s tough for us obviously because we scored and they didn’t count but in the end that’s football.’

Big games at the Bridge keep on coming, with Bayern Munich visitors to west London next week as our Champions League campaign resumes. Before then, the focus remains on ensuring we are competing in Europe’s premier club competition once again next season by finishing in the Premier League’s top four.

United’s win brought them to within three points of the Blues with 12 league games remaining, with Sheffield United two behind and Tottenham just one. Spurs, managed by our former boss Jose Mourinho, are next up in SW6 on Saturday lunchtime in a contest that could be decisive in the battle for a top-four finish.

‘We need to improve a lot because we have tough games ahead of us and we have to be focused,’ admitted Kovacic. ‘We have to train hard every day, to prepare our games better and try to avoid our mistakes because we are making too many mistakes in these kind of matches and you get punished.

‘We have a good week ahead of us to prepare for Tottenham and to play a good match. We know this match means a lot for us because Tottenham are close behind us so we need to prepare ourselves quite a lot to win this game at home.

‘We are still fourth so we are still in a good position but we need to wake up because they are coming from behind. We need to play these next games like we were playing in the beginning of the season and change some things as well, obviously.’

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