Over the course of Roman Abramovich’s ownership, Chelsea have been inclined to make dramatic deadline-day signings, and the arrival of Mateo Kovacic on loan from Real Madrid was no exception.
Having already represented Inter Milan and Real Madrid at the age of 24, and approaching half a century of caps for Croatia, his talents were apparent to all those affiliated with Chelsea.
His adaptation to Chelsea has been seamless, and he provides a fiercely respected midfield with enterprise and vigour. Without a doubt, his debut against Arsenal, albeit as a substitute, was mightily imposing.
His arrival enabled Chelsea to take a foothold in the game, as the Blues succeeded in their pursuit of the winning goal. During those maiden moments, his understanding with Hazard was verging on telepathy, with the pair interchanging effortlessly.
It’s fair to say that the Croatian midfielder is regarded for his technical quality, but an area of his game that his foolishly overlooked is his work in the defensive phase. The 24-year-old exhibits excellent work rate, and he is often seen retrieving possession or assisting N’Golo Kante in his defensive duties.
While questions have been raised regarding Kante’s positional suitability in Sarri’s system, Kovacic’s presence, alongside Jorginho and the Frenchman, gives the Chelsea midfield tremendous balance.
With this in mind, Kovacic – valued at £27m by transfermarkt.com – is undoubtedly an excellent player, whose inclusion in the starting XI elevates Chelsea’s pedigree, but he must begin to contribute more assists and goals, to truly become a complete midfielder. Maurizio Sarri’s footballing philosophy provides his players with creative licence, and players – who may not traditionally attack with frequency – will occupy advanced positions.
During his career, Kovacic has only attained 21 goals in 286 appearances, and while his primary focus as a midfielder isn’t solely placed on scoring goals, Chelsea’s current predicament requires him to augment his attacking quality. One of the only issues that they’ve encountered this season is their extraordinary dependence on Eden Hazard.
Under Sarri’s leadership, Hazard has become far more ruthless in the final third of the pitch, and he’s already totalled seven goals this season, six of which have been scored in the Premier League. Subsequently, he is the Premier League’s top scorer, and he currently averages a goal every 81 minutes in the division.
While the Belgian’s form is magnificent for Chelsea, it does create a culture of reliance among the team. He has contributed towards eight league goals this season (scoring six, assisting two), more than any player in the division.
Also, he is responsible for scoring more than a third of the Blues’ league goals. Resultantly, when he doesn’t reach his typical standards, Chelsea struggle, as was demonstrated against West Ham United.
Furthermore, the Blues are facing another predicament that further emphasises the need for goals from midfield. Maurizio Sarri’s side are struggling from a shortage of goals up top. Jointly, Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata have only amassed two goals between them in all competitions this season, which illustrates the need for more goals to lessen the burden that Hazard currently shoulders.
Kovacic’s display in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw against Liverpool was certainly an encouraging step, and he commanded proceedings at the centre of the pitch. The Croat finished the game having completed a staggering 97.5% of his passes, which included the assist for Hazard’s goal, and he completed the highest number of tackles from the Chelsea players.
Accordingly, his noteworthy performance against Liverpool evidences further his aptness and effectiveness in the Chelsea midfield, but if he is to progress, and become a supremely dominant player, then he must add goals to his game.
His start to Chelsea life has been nigh-on flawless, and his performance in Chelsea’s 4-1 triumph against Cardiff demonstrated his ability to occupy important positions to score, it’s merely a case of converting his chances.
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