It’s no secret that Mateo Kovacic was one of the more controversial players amongst Chelsea fans last year. Whilst some were mesmerised by his silky skills and elegant dribbling, many labelled him useless and lacking in end product. And, in truth, you can understand both sides of the argument. However, this year he already looks like a much improved player from last term.
After a somewhat out of the blue loan deal with Real Madrid, Kovacic spent the season rotating the LCM spot with Ross Barkley. His skill set suited this position best with his ability to dribble from deep and beat a man to progress the ball forward. In fact last season he managed an average of 1.3 dribbles a game and 0.8 key passes. Impressive numbers, but nothing to write home about. However what many fans weren’t happy with his end product. He managed just two assists all season, and no goals. Although goals aren’t a key part of the Croatians game, you would expect more from a forward thinking midfielder.
Then during Chelsea’s transfer ban ridden window Kovacic signed on a permanent deal for a fee estimated to be £45 million. Its fair to say that many Chelsea fans weren’t happy with this business and deemed him a massive waste of money. However since then he has most definitely proved them wrong.
With Kante’s injury and Lampards preferred formation looking to be 4-2-3-1, he has been playing in a double pivot alongside Jorginho. The Italian’s match intelligence, composure and defensive tenacity has given Kovacic license to run free, and run free he sure has. After the first three league games, the Croatian leads the way for both dribbles and Take-ons completed. He has made 11 dribbles with a completion rate of 100% and succesfully taken on 12 players. But its not just the quantity, its the quality as well. The way he simply glides past players is so pleasing to watch. In addition he already has half the goal contributions as last year in just three games, getting an assist for Abraham with a pinpoint pass against Norwich.
Since signing on a permanent deal he has said that he feels “happier” and “more settled in London.” And this shines through in his football. The key difference between the seasons is confidence. He looks like a player with confidence in his self, confidence in his ability and knowledge that his manager has confidence in him.
We already know that he is looking like a more complete player this year under Lampard but there are question marks over where he fits in after Kante returns. If a 4-2-3-1 is played then the double pivot surely is made up of Kante and Jorginho. And if a 4-3-3 is used then all three can fit but where does Mount or Loftus-Cheek fit in?
Lampard has a problem on his hands, but its a good problem to have. And however he tries to fix it, one things for sure. On his current form Mateo Kovacic cant be left out.