Only three players have featured more in the Premier League for Chelsea this season than Mateo Kovacic and the Croatian will be looking to maintain his prominent role in the team for the big contest with Manchester City this lunchtime.
Last time out in the league at Stamford Bridge, the midfielder celebrated his first home goal for the Blues in a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa. It was also his first club goal in 21 months and set us on the way to another three points in what has been a strong start to the new campaign for Thomas Tuchel’s men, who start this sixth round of league matches top of the pile.
The addition of Romelu Lukaku in attack has led many pundits to tip us as title contenders this term, despite Tuchel’s assertions that we remain ‘the chasers’, and this latest encounter with the reigning champions presents another early test of those credentials following trips to Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham already.
‘It’s difficult to play against every team in the Premier league so it doesn’t matter if it’s City or not,’ said Kovacic of our 12.30pm clash. ‘The other day we played against Aston Villa and it was a tough match so in this league every game is quite difficult.
‘You need to give 100 per cent to win so we are ready for City just like we are for every opponent, and we will try to win.
‘I always imagined that we could go for trophies because we have a great squad and we showed at the end of last season that we can fight for many titles.
‘We’ve started quite well so we need to continue this run and be in all the competitions because we want to be there trying to win.’
Tuchel’s Chelsea have emerged victorious in three meetings with City, including the FA Cup semi-final and Champions League final last term. No side has ever beaten a team managed by Pep Guardiola four times in a row but Kovacic believes he and his team-mates have the attributes to achieve just that at the Bridge today.
‘We showed a great spirit against City,’ he reflected on previous clashes. ‘It’s not easy to play against them because they like to have the ball and they are quite fast so you have to be compact and all together.
‘Obviously we have great players to play with the ball as well and to match them so we can hurt them. City is a great team and they know how to win because for many years now in the Premier League they have performed on an amazing level. We need to match that and then we will have a great chance to win.’
Our match-winner in Porto has continued his fine form at the start of 2021/22 and Kovacic believes we are starting to see the best of Kai Havertz now that the German has adapted to a new country and a new league.
‘I’m very glad for him because I saw from the first training what kind of quality Kai has,’ said the 27-year-old. ‘It was a tough start for him, which is normal because he’s young coming to a new country.
‘He just changed in the last half a year and has adapted now very well to the Premier League. He knows how to play in such a physical league, he showed great character and that’s what true champions do.
‘They perform every week and he’s doing that now. He’s playing class football because he’s a class player.’
Another key player in last season’s Champions League triumph is set to return for the clash between the European and Premier League champions. Edouard Mendy has missed our last two matches with a hip injury sustained late on against Zenit St Petersburg 11 days ago but will start against City, Tuchel confirmed in his pre-match press conference on Friday.
During the Senegal international’s absence, Kepa Arrizabalaga has deputised superbly, keeping a clean sheet away at Tottenham and then performing penalty shoot-out heroics as we beat Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup third round in midweek, and Kovacic claims the Blues are fortunate to have two top-class international goalkeepers in the squad.
‘We are blessed to have these two amazing goalkeepers. Kepa had an amazing game against Aston Villa and Edou has had an amazing impact for us.
'He came in and showed a big character, he’s a fighter on the pitch and he wants to win.
‘When I see Edou, he is really improving and improving every day and has showed he is a world-class goalkeeper.
'We know in this club that it’s all about winning so he’s the perfect guy because he’s always focused 100 per cent and giving everything in games and in training. They are two great goalkeepers.’