With the stakes raised to season-defining ahead of our Premier League finale at Stamford Bridge this afternoon, Mateo Kovacic believes the ability of his team-mates to handle pressure and hold their nerve will prove telling in the race for Champions League qualification.
The Blues are currently fourth ahead of the final game of the campaign, level on 63 points with Manchester United, one ahead of Leicester City. The teams in third and fifth meet each other at the King Power Stadium, while Chelsea’s visitors are Wolverhampton Wanderers, who are currently sixth.
It all makes for an intriguing set of circumstances for the final 90 minutes of this drawn-out league season, with Frank Lampard’s side aware that they will secure a top-four finish if they avoid defeat in their game, or if United win at Leicester.
The pressure, therefore, is cranking up but Chelsea will not be playing for a point according to Kovacic.
Only five outfielders have played more league minutes than the Croatian this term and few in the squad can match his record of big-game experience, having won league titles in Spain and his homeland, numerous honours with Real Madrid and been involved in the squad for a World Cup final.
On the opposite team in that final two summers ago were N’Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud, now club colleagues and equally important in guiding quite a youthful group through the psychological challenges of this tense final day.
‘Obviously we are approaching the game trying to win because if we win, we are there in the top four,’ claims the 26-year-old. ‘We are going to try everything to win this game, approach it well and let’s see what happens because we’ve had a good season until now and we deserve it.
‘The pressure is always there from the beginning of the season because Chelsea is a big club and we need to fight for titles so every game has a pressure to win. We still have three very important games to go – Sunday is a big game, then the FA Cup final and then the game against Bayern, which we need to approach well and try to win there.’
Kovacic concedes that this campaign has been one of mixed fortunes, with our form oscillating between strong performances and inconsistency.
‘We made some mistakes in the past,’ he admits. ‘We lost a lot of points so we could easily be in the top four this season already.
‘There have been quite a lot of ups and downs. We had some very good games and then we had some quite bad games where we dropped points which we usually shouldn’t do but this is the Premier League and every game is really tough here.
‘Everybody can beat everybody so it’s a tough competition. We’ve had until now a good season but now we have to confirm that with our two remaining games. Every game you have to fight and we still have everything in our hands so that’s the most important thing for us.’
While wise heads will be needed to manage the demands of such a crunch game, it is the blend of youth and experience that has worked well for the Blues this season and Kovacic believes that bodes well for the future in west London.
‘We have a good mix with experienced players and very good young players – it’s been a good season for them, they played really well this season and they need to continue like that,' he says.
'At Chelsea, it’s not just important to play well but we need to challenge for trophies and obviously the gap [between ourselves and the top two] has been really high this season. It’s been difficult but next season I hope we will be there fighting with them.
‘I think every year Chelsea needs to fight for the title. Even this year obviously we wanted to win it but you have two teams in front that have done very well in the last four years. They built strong teams and it’s a process so we just need to get better and better every season.
‘It’s not easy to win a trophy so it’s nice to be in the FA Cup final and last year we won the Europa League. In the end, there is only one winner and to win a trophy is quite hard but obviously we have some good signings and next year we need to fight for everything.’
The more immediate priority is to ensure the 2019/20 league campaign can be viewed through the prism of success and that Lampard achieves the ambitious objective set a year ago to finish in the top four.
‘It’s been nice to play under him,’ Kovacic says of the boss. ‘He’s a legend of the club and obviously he can give us a lot of his experience playing for this club. For me as a midfield player, of course it’s nice to have one of the best midfield players as your coach.
‘He’s doing a great job and if you look at his first season, it’s going quite well because if you see the other clubs - Liverpool when Klopp signed and Guardiola as well at Manchester City - they struggled a little bit in the first year.
‘It’s normal, you need to give him time as well but I think he’s doing a good season. We need to finish these two games to judge it but if we play these two games as we know we can, it should be a very good season for Chelsea.’
Blues supporters will be hoping that Kovacic is right on that. One last push and one last point is required, then Lampard’s job of returning Chelsea to the Champions League next season, a task deemed so improbable back in August, will have been achieved.
Read: Our preview of the game