Judging by his performances so far this season, it’s incredible to think that many Chelsea fans were against the permanent signing of Mateo Kovacic. Yet just three months into the season, the reported fee of £40m is looking like an absolute bargain. The Croatian has really come into his own this season, looking a much more mature and accomplished player than he did last year, which is saying a lot after some fantastic performances under Maurizio Sarri.
I wrote an article last season on the debate around signing Kovacic permanently and mentioned how his style of play was much better suited to playing deeper, which he did numerous times in the ‘regista’ role in the second half of 2018-19. And so it’s proved, with Kovacic excelling in a midfield pivot alongside Jorginho, and playing slightly deeper than he was last year.
It’s in this deeper role where he has been able to showcase his quality, with his dribbling ability an incredible asset which gets him out of a huge number of tight situations. The fact that he is so press resistant and calm on the ball brings so much confidence to the team. They know they can pass the ball into him or Jorginho, even when being marked, and the likely result is an inch perfect pass to a teammate.
For all his brilliance, Kovacic’s defensive work is something that’s hugely underrated by many fans. He’s always pressing and covering ground to get in vital interceptions or tackles, to sustain Chelsea attacks and stop the opposition from countering. The moment that stands out in that regard is his tackle on the half way line against Norwich, where he not only stopped a counter but then played a great ball to keep the Chelsea attack alive.
The only real aspect lacking from his game is goalscoring, and under the stewardship of Frank Lampard, his first goal will surely come soon. At just 25 years old, the very best of Kovacic is yet to come – a very scary thought for his opposition. Chelsea have a real gem in the Croatian, a gem that is only at the beginning of what he can offer.