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Mateo Kovacic

BIOGRAPHY

Mateo Kovacic completed a permanent move to Chelsea in July 2019 following a successful season on loan at Stamford Bridge.

The Croatian international has plenty of experience having featured regularly in Serie A (with Inter Milan), La Liga (Real Madrid), the Champions League and at international level.

Kovacic is a ball-playing central midfielder who thrives on quick combinations. He combines hard work with skill in possession and penetrative passing. He can also play anywhere across the midfield and was named Chelsea Player of the Year for 2019/20.

2018/19

Kovacic made his Blues debut when he came off the bench in an early-season win over Arsenal, the Croatian impressing with his clever use of the ball and technical qualities, before making his first start in our next match away at Newcastle. He quickly became an important member of the three-man midfield favoured by Maurizio Sarri, playing on the left of the trio.

Kovacic's link-up with Eden Hazard caught the eye and he supplied a fine pass to the Belgian to open the scoring against Liverpool in September. He also set up Hazard's 100th Chelsea goal at Watford on Boxing Day.

The 25-year-old contributed significantly to our Europa League-winning campaign, starting in 10 of the 15 games, including the final in Baku, and making two further substitute appearances. He was a standout performer against Arsenal in Azerbaijan and was involved in three of the goals in our 4-1 win.

2019/20

Kovacic enjoyed the best form of his Chelsea career to that point during the first half of his second season at the club. A regular under Frank Lampard, his combination play with Jorginho proved particularly effective, as did the driving runs from midfield that showcased his dribbling ability. He also had the satisfaction of scoring his first goal for us - and his first in nearly three years - as he equalised away to Valencia with a precise 20-yarder. A second goal soon followed in a league loss at Everton.

In addition to his first two goals he also provided three assists, including one delightful pass to tee-up N’Golo Kante against Manchester City in late November, and he was high up the list in terms of chances created, only behind Willian and Mason Mount for Chelsea when the season was paused during lockdown.

The shape and personnel in our midfield changed throughout the 2019/20 season, but Kovacic had a near-telepathic connection with his team-mates whoever he played alongside.

The man wearing our number 17 shirt did his popularity no harm with two standout performances against London rivals Tottenham in the Premier League either side of Christmas, and looked likely to be a big miss for Lampard when he limped off with an injury during our FA Cup win over Liverpool in March.

However, the timing of lockdown meant Kovacic was unavailable for just one match, returning from his Achilles problem in time to be named in the starting line-up for our first game when football resumed in June, helping us to make it a winning restart against Aston Villa.

Another injury suffered at the start of July forced him to sit out a couple of games, but when he returned it was in arguably his best form yet for Chelsea. He started all of our last six games in all competitions as his performances helped us secure a top-four finish in the Premier League and reach the FA Cup final, not to mention being voted by fans as our 2019/20 Player of the Year.

2020/21

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.

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 win, 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 number 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. 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. 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.

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.

Kovacic made his 100th Chelsea appearance in a 6-0 Carabao Cup win over Barnsley in September 2020

photo of Milestone Milestone

Pre-Chelsea

Kovacic caught the eye from a very early age, and after joining Dinamo Zagreb’s academy as a teenager, it wasn’t long before he had established himself in their first team. He scored on his senior debut aged 16 years and 198 days, becoming the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Croatian top flight in the process.

He got his first taste of elite European football during his two-and-a-half years in Dinamo’s first team, and became the second-youngest player to have ever scored in the Champions League after netting against Lyon at just 17.

Kovacic left Dinamo for Inter Milan in January 2013 having won a pair of league and cup doubles with the Croatian giants. His performances at such a tender age, including in the Champions League, had made him one of the hottest properties in Europe.

His first half-season at Inter was so impressive he forced his way into the starting XI and he picked up the club’s Young Player of the Year award.

After two more seasons at the San Siro, Real Madrid came calling in the summer of 2015 and with the Nerazzurri in financial difficulty, they had little choice but to sell one of their star assets. Kovacic headed to the Spanish capital having made almost 100 appearances in Italy. He had just turned 21.

With fierce competition for places at Real Madrid, Kovacic more often than not featured off the bench during his time at the Bernabeu. Despite that, he maintained regular playing time and accumulated over 100 appearances during his three years with Real, including in the Champions League, which Real Madrid won every season Kovacic was there. Among his other honours were a La Liga title and a Spanish Cup.

International

He debuted for Croatia in 2013, and along with playing his part as Croatia entered uncharted territory, he started each of their games at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. He played five games during Croatia’s run to the World Cup final in 2018, as well as setting up one of their goals in a memorable 3-0 victory over Argentina during the tournament.

Kovacic was a regular in the side throughout Euro 2020 qualifying and the 2020/21 Nations League, scoring a crucial brace against Portugal in their last game of the latter, which meant they avoided relegation on goal difference. That continued at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament itself, starting all four of Croatia's matches and setting up the decisive goal that sealed their place in the knockout stages with a 3-1 win over Scotland, before they were eliminated in extra time by Spain in the last 16.