After making his loan move permanent, the Croatian has become a key cog in Chelsea’s setup in 2019/2020.
Mateo Kovačić signed permanently for Chelsea last summer after an indifferent loan spell on an individual level. Now freed of the shackles of Maurizio Sarri’s structured tactical approach (or perhaps being replaced by, or having to replace Ross Barkley). The midfielder has emerged as a key player in Frank Lampard’s system.
The Croatian started the season in imperious form in a midfield double-pivot alongside Jorginho, with N’golo Kanté struggling for fitness. The pair demonstrated an almost telepathic understanding in the win at Watford in November, completing 266 passes between them. With Kovačić completing 96% of his passes.
They further showed the results of their blossoming linkup in the 2-1 defeat away at champions Manchester City, where they topped the list of accurate passers on the Chelsea team who reduced City to 47% ball possession, the lowest-ever recorded by a Pep Guardiola team.
His tactical awareness and range of passing have benefitted Lampard’s plans which aims to move the ball forward quickly at all times.
For this, Jorginho’s passing proficiency dovetails superbly with Kovacic’s ball-carrying qualities. Unlike last season, the Croat’s long passing ability has also come to the fore in 2019/2020, his long ball accuracy having gone up (0.9 to 3.1) from last season.
Particularly, Kovacic’s dribbling and close control have helped Chelsea to relieve pressure in the defensive phase as well as push forward. Many a time this season Kovačić has elegantly pushed the team forward, often under pressure, with a slaloming dribble from deep, a delight to watch every single time.
His outstanding ability on the ball has seen Kovačić average 2.8 dribbles per game in the league, and 4.1 per 90 in the Champions League. These ball-carrying abilities have so far helped replace Eden Hazard in that regard as he becomes statistically the best dribbler in the squad.
69 successful dribbles put him fifth on the list of top Premier League dribblers this season, Kovačić is the only central midfielder in the top 10.
The Croatian dynamo’s performances have massively softened N’golo Kanté’s injury blows this season. Rather astonishingly, Lampard’s men have fared better without the Frenchman, winning only seven times in the Frenchman’s 22 appearances this season
The 25-year-old finally ended his 122-game goal-scoring drought with two carbon copy well-taken strikes from the edge of the box, in successive away games at Valencia and Everton.
With the form the Croat has shown this season, it is easy to see why he remained in a Real Madrid squad that lifted the Champions League trophy three times on the trot.
Kovačić was a rare shining light in the 3-nil shellacking handed by Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16 first leg. The midfielder completed eight dribbles, the only Chelsea player to complete more than one, in his fruitless efforts to instigate attacking moves for his team.
Although an Achilles injury suffered in the FA cup win against Liverpool threatened to dampen the business end of Chelsea’s season; the suspension of leagues across Europe, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, gives Kovačić a chance to be back fit when football resumes.
A chance to well and truly seal his place as Chelsea’s most important player.