Mateo Kovacic is next in the spotlight as we continue to look at how the campaign was going for each of our players before lockdown.
Kovacic spent 2018/19 on loan at Chelsea from Real Madrid before making the move permanent in the summer. In his second season at Stamford Bridge he has been a standout performer…
Mateo Kovacic: 37 appearances (eight as a sub), two goals, three assists
‘It is commonplace for foreign players coming to the Premier League to have a period of settling in. I thought there were some really good performances from Kovacic last year. The fact he was in and out the team is never easy but I do think he feels at home now. His personality shines through in the group and he is a very likeable character with a slightly, nice tough side to him on and off the pitch, and he is a really good player.’
More to come. That was the feeling after Mateo Kovacic’s first season at Chelsea, not least because it ended with probably his best performance in a blue shirt up to that point, the Europa League final when he dominated the midfield to help propel us to a comfortable victory over Arsenal.
This season, Kovacic has picked up where he left off in Baku, suggesting his period of adaption to English football, mentioned by Frank Lampard above, is over. Under one of the all-time midfield greats, the Croatian has flourished.
As early as our pre-season win over Barcelona, Kovacic was catching the manager’s eye. ‘What I’ve found here on this tour from the first day he turned up is a hungry attitude, desire to work and an incredible talent on the ball,’ Lampard said of Kovacic after that game in Japan.
He started seven of our first eight games in all competitions, usually on the left side of a midfield three, and from that position set up Tammy Abraham’s winner at Norwich.
A short spell coming off the bench followed as Lampard rotated his midfield; many cited Kovacic’s impact as an early sub as critical to helping us wear down Newcastle at the Bridge in mid-October.
As autumn turned to winter, Kovacic showcased the breadth of his midfield abilities, and the stats from before the current hiatus show few match his bullish ball-carrying, reading of the game and precise passing.
This season Kovacic has the best dribble success rate of anyone in the Premier League to have attempted over 30 take-ons (79.31 per cent); overall he ranks fifth in the league for successful dribbles, and fifth for average passes completed per 90 minutes (75.99); and only 11 players win possession more often than him, on average.
Kovacic's first Chelsea goal
Kovacic and Jorginho have built up a near-telepathic relationship, with the pair helping dictate the tempo of our game under Lampard. One win at Watford, and the early stages of an eventual defeat at Man City - when Kovacic majestically set up N’Golo Kante for the opener - stand out.
What was missing from Kovacic’s game was abundantly clear: goals. Happily, he found the net in consecutive away games against Valencia and Everton, both pinpoint strikes from outside the box. They were his first goals in nearly three years, and he revealed his ‘silly hand’ celebration was for his nieces. Alongside his two goals this season Kovacic has three assists, but the fact only Willian and Mason Mount have created more chances than him suggests that figure could well have been higher.
Kovacic further endeared himself to Chelsea supporters with a no-nonsense display in the derby win at Tottenham just before Christmas. After another short spell out of the team at the beginning of 2020 when our form was up and down, Kovacic reclaimed his spot in the lead-up to lockdown. He shone in the reverse fixture against Tottenham, and then Lampard identified his performance against Bayern Munich as the only one from his team befitting the occasion.
The 26-year-old limped off in the FA Cup win over Liverpool with an Achilles problem and subsequently missed the Everton game that followed, his first absence because of injury this season. Whenever football does return, he will be aiming to quickly return to the levels he has so impressively and consistently displayed throughout 2019/20.
Their season so far: Mason Mount
Mateo Kovacic Stats
Mateo Kovacic Premier League Appearances 2019/20
Mateo Kovacic had made 25 appearances in the Premier League in the 2019/20 season. Seven have been as a substitute.
Mateo Kovacic Champions League Appearances 2019/20
Mateo Kovacic has played seven Champions League games this season, one off the bench.
Mateo Kovacic FA Cup Appearances 2019/20
Mateo Kovacic has started each of our three FA Cup games this season, going off injured in the most recent win over Liverpool.
Mateo Kovacic League Cup Appearances 2019/20
Mateo Kovacic made one Carabao Cup appearance this season.
Mateo Kovacic Goals 2019/20
Mateo Kovacic has scored two goals this season, away to Valencia in the Champions League and Everton in the Premier League.