This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
Zero goals. Two assists. The combined total of goal contributions Mateo Kovacic had for the entire season last year at Chelsea, a flop in no uncertain terms. If ever there was a definition of what a non goal-scoring midfielder looked like, then look no further than the Croatia international.
Despite his lack of end product though, the Blues had evidently seen enough in the 25-year-old to splash out £40m to make his loan move from Real Madrid permanent. And if Kovacic’s struggles were simply tactical and down to Maurizio Sarri’s rigid 4-3-3, then Frank Lampard’s arrival as manager could be a major blessing in disguise.
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In the Chelsea legend’s first game in charge against Bohemians, the west London side were set up in a 4-2-3-1. Could Kovacic have the defensive discipline to play as one of the deeper-lying midfield two? With N’Golo Kante and Jorginho around, it seems more likely he will be pushed further up to play as a number ten, where he was deployed 18 times during his final season (2014/15) with Inter.
One thing Kovacic himself has made clear, is that he will be looking to learn from Lampard’s goal-scoring nous over the course of his Blues career. Speaking to the club’s official website, the Croatian said: “He was an amazing player and he showed last season that he is a good coach as well. I’m looking forward to learning how to score from him because he scored quite a lot and me not so much last season!
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“I’m maybe not exactly the same type of midfielder as he was but he had some strong abilities, especially scoring goals. He was a hard worker so I’m looking forward to being better in this aspect, in working hard, fighting on the pitch and scoring goals.”
Kovacic’s comments bode well for the future. When everybody is fit and ready in the Chelsea squad, it’s difficult to imagine where Lampard will see his best position. But if he can replicate some of the form that saw him net eight goals and provide a further five assists in that 2014/15 season with Inter, then Kovacic – valued at £31.5m by Transfermarkt – could undergo a major transformation from the disappointment of last year.