In our player-by-player review of the 2020/21 season, Mateo Kovacic's campaign is the next to come under the microscope...
Kovacic continued to go from strength to strength for Chelsea after being named our Player of the Year in 2019/20, showing the close control, intelligent use of the ball and ability to drive out of midfield which has so impressed since arriving from Real Madrid, initially on loan, in 2018.
After starting 2020/21 as an important option while Frank Lampard rotated his midfield to manage the busy schedule, following the delayed start to the season, he became a near ever-present for Thomas Tuchel during our resurgence in 2021, even if a badly timed injury deprived us of his talents at a crucial stage.
After missing our opening game of the season, Kovacic was named in the starting line-up for the trip to Liverpool and the three games which followed, taking him past the 100-appearance mark for the club.
Kovacic made his 100th Chelsea appearance in the 6-0 Carabao Cup win over BarnsleyMilestone achieved
He was one of several players whose club campaign was disrupted by the three-game international break in October, with head coach Frank Lampard trying to manage his squad’s individual workloads. That meant Kovacic sat out our next three Premier League fixtures, but did feature in all three Champions League games during that spell and was back in the team in the league at the start of November.
His return against Sheffield United provided a perfect example of the freedom he was being given to run beyond midfield into the final third. He latched on to Hakim Ziyech’s pass over the top in the right-hand channel and did brilliantly to cut the ball back towards the penalty spot, setting up the Tammy Abraham equaliser which sparked our 4-1 comeback, and grabbing his first assist of the season.
However, with our form dropping in December, Kovacic continued to be rotated with Jorginho and Kante as Lampard tried to find the right midfield combination to arrest our decline.
As we entered 2021, the combination of Kovacic’s form, an injury to Kante and a change of manager gave our no.17 the chance to cement his spot in the line-up. Having regained his place in the side under Lampard, he was selected by Thomas Tuchel for the German's first game in charge, a spot he wouldn’t relinquish for some time.
From our first game of the year, Kovacic was named in the line-up for all but two of our league matches until late April, including a run of 10 consecutive Premier League starts – quite some achievement in such a relentless and condensed season. He also started all three Champions League matches in that time, including both legs of the win over Atletico Madrid.
It was at the peak of his form that a problem on European duty with Chelsea threatened to end his 2020/21 season early, though. After helping us to take a commanding 2-0 lead over Porto in the first leg of our Champions League quarter-final, Kovacic was struck down by a muscle injury while preparing for the second of those games in Seville.
It was a big blow for player and club that a man who had such a sizeable role in our resurgence under Tuchel was forced to miss over a month of football at a crucial stage of the season, including the two legs of our Champions League semi-final against his former club Real Madrid and both the semis and final of the FA Cup.
'I have a very good relationship with him because we think the same way about football, we understand each other. We know what we want to do, what each other wants to do'
— Jorginho on playing alongside Kovacic in midfield
He returned to the bench in our last home game against Leicester and was called into action earlier than planned, due to a first-half injury to Kante, but shook off fitness concerns to play his part in a 2-1 win which effectively secured our top-four finish in the Premier League.
He then played the first hour of the last league game at Aston Villa before coming on as a substitute to help sure up our midfield as we held on to a 1-0 lead in the last 10 minutes of the Champions League final victory over Manchester City.
Mateo Kovacic 2020/21 Chelsea stats
Unused sub: 4
Minutes played: 2,836
Mateo Kovacic Premier League appearances 2020/21
Mateo Kovacic played 27 games in the Premier League for Chelsea this season, coming off the bench for six of them.
Mateo Kovacic Champions League appearances 2020/21
Mateo Kovacic made 10 appearances in the Champions League this season, three of them as a substitute, including the final.
Mateo Kovacic FA Cup appearances 2020/21
Mateo Kovacic played three games in the FA Cup this season, two of them from the bench.
Mateo Kovacic Carabao Cup appearances 2020/21
Mateo Kovacic played twice in the Carabao Cup this season, both from the start.
Mateo Kovacic goals 2020/21
Mateo Kovacic did not score any goals for Chelsea in 2020/21.