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8. Mateo Kovacic


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42 minutes ago, Tomo said:

Should be starting every game for the foreseeable future baring injury, suspension or fatigue.

If Kante's injury is a few weeks, there's no excuses now for Lampard to not try to revert back to what was working so well before Kante came back to fitness and was shoehorned into the team at the expense of Jorginho and Kovacic's partnership.

Once Kante went off last night, it was again clear that both play better with each other than with Kante.

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The trio is getting ready!

Wrong.  Typical knee jerk reaction of judging after one game.   

Still think he's been outstanding this year.  Doesn't do much that'll get in the box score as we say in the States but influences the game in a lot of other ways.  With the ball at his feet he's as go

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2 minutes ago, Superblue_1986 said:

If Kante's injury is a few weeks, there's no excuses now for Lampard to not try to revert back to what was working so well before Kante came back to fitness and was shoehorned into the team at the expense of Jorginho and Kovacic's partnership.

Once Kante went off last night, it was again clear that both play better with each other than with Kante.

Our passing and total midfield play and combinations felt much smoother suddenly, compared to last weeks with Kante in the team. Also, Mount fitted in so nicely yesterday and it was almost like against Ajax where we bossed the midfield.

This midfield break by wanting to play Kante, Christensen's inclusion and Giroud's total mismanagement are my concerns and blasts regarding Lampard.

Kovacic was an absolute monster yesterday and by far our best player this season.

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1 hour ago, Superblue_1986 said:

If Kante's injury is a few weeks, there's no excuses now for Lampard to not try to revert back to what was working so well before Kante came back to fitness and was shoehorned into the team at the expense of Jorginho and Kovacic's partnership.

Once Kante went off last night, it was again clear that both play better with each other than with Kante.

As I just pointed out on the match thread as sad as I am for Kante to be injured I'm very excited to see that midfield once more.

If it stands up and has us dictating the game against Bayern (even if they ultimately have too much for us) the same way it did in Amsterdam there's surely no way Kante could walk back in.

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19 minutes ago, Tomo said:

As I just pointed out on the match thread as sad as I am for Kante to be injured I'm very excited to see that midfield once more.

If it stands up and has us dictating the game against Bayern (even if they ultimately have too much for us) the same way it did in Amsterdam there's surely no way Kante could walk back in.

Long term wise, Kante needs to be out of this team anyway. RLC-Kovacic-Jorgi is the midfield to go.

 

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24 minutes ago, NikkiCFC said:

Kova spent winter break on Barbados. Nice! At least something creative unlike majority of PL players who dont know better than soulless Dubai.

yay for Bim!!!!

That is Sandy Lane, btw

872687f197bd050a6b592a2bf79c0ee7.png

 
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13 minutes ago, NikkiCFC said:

Kova spent winter break on Barbados. Nice! At least something creative unlike majority of PL players who dont know better than soulless Dubai.

Haha agreed. Imagine having all the wealth in the world and spending your holidays in Dubai...

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18 minutes ago, NikkiCFC said:

If season is over I guess he is the POTY. 

But no player was really exceptional. 

short, short timeframe, but Gilmour has been a beast in the few minutes he has played

Kovacic is POTY by a mile

biggest disappointments

KEPA

Bats

Emerson

Mount (to a point, I will be patient)

Pedro (age caught him, if he was 23yo he would cost £80-90m or so I have zero ill will towards him and he will go down as a minor semi-legend here, truly a shame we never had had at his pure peak other than 1 year, but he was injured a bit then too,) From 2009 to 2016, he was off the charts, 6 seasons, 114 goals, 72 assists all comps and that was not playing crazy minutes) He was one of the fastest Spanish (actual Iberian, not African transplants) players I have ever seen, insane pace.

Azpi (he was SHIT at LB, just dogshit, and his legs are gone)

Willian to a point, wish the fucker scored more, he is so up and down, his saving grace was his defence at times, I admit I hate him, but that is so so for his shitstick attitude, which he shows far too often, one of teh most frustrating players we have ever had, up there with Morata, Mutu, Bats, Shevchenko, Bakayoko, and the ultimate shitbox, Fernando Torres, Drinkwater we ALL knew was dogshit so it was not frustration with HIM, it was murderous frustration with the fucking fuck-fucks on the board.

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2 hours ago, Vesper said:

 

Mount (to a point, I will be patient)

 

Mount is not a disappointment for me. Before season started I did not expect him to be better then what he is now. Abraham overachieved my expectations but still I do not think he is good enough to be our 1st striker.

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‘Fighter with a gentleman spirit’: Chelsea can build around Kovacic’s dynamism

https://theathletic.com/1723159/2020/04/05/kovacic-modric-real-madrid-chelsea-lampard/

Mateo-Kovacic-scaled-e1586009197315-1024x682.jpg

As he watched a brilliant Bayern Munich subject his Chelsea team to their heaviest-ever home European defeat in February, Frank Lampard saw only one player in blue worthy of publicly singling out for praise. “I think there were a couple of performances in our team — namely Mateo Kovacic — who played with a personality and a quality that makes you go, ‘OK, he can play in virtually any team at that level’,” he said afterward.

In a match that saw Chelsea held to just a 36.7 per cent share of possession, their lowest of the season, Kovacic touched the ball more times (76) than anyone else in his team. Even more eye-catching was his tally of completed dribbles — eight of nine attempted, more even than Bayern’s roadrunner of a left-back Alphonso Davies. Several of them single-handedly broke a Bayern press that otherwise smothered the home side into oblivion.

Kovacic was the only one of Lampard’s players who panicked Bayern, and therefore the only player who met the standard that Chelsea aspire to reach again. In spite of the circumstances, or perhaps because of them, it was one of the most impressive performances of his time at Stamford Bridge. It also suggested that, now 25 and with enough big-game experience already to make most retired players proud, he might be about to fully realise the talent that has helped him turn heads in Croatia and beyond for more than half his life.


Andrea Stramaccioni, coach of Inter from March 2012 to May 2013, still remembers the first time he saw Kovacic. “Marco Branca (former Inter sporting director) was considering an offer for Sime Vrsaljko of Dinamo Zagreb and he requested my opinion,” he tells The Athletic. “I watched him in a Champions League match against Paris Saint-Germain but after this game, which PSG won 4-0, I went back to my sporting director in love with another player…”

Even in a heavy defeat, Kovacic had been too good to ignore. “He was only 18,” Stramaccioni adds, “but from that date, I pushed my president, Massimo Moratti, to believe me and, in January (2013), Mateo signed for us. He has a natural skill with the ball. He is fast when driving and he can change direction without losing control of his body. He can beat everyone one-v-one in the middle of the pitch and he’s a hard worker.”

Despite his youth, Kovacic was already established as a key figure at Dinamo. A year earlier, he had captained the side as a 17-year-old in a league match against Lucko, becoming the youngest player ever to wear the armband. Stramaccioni saw him in his second Champions League group stage campaign; in his first, he had netted a consolation in a 7-1 loss against Lyon to become the second-youngest scorer in the history of the competition (he’s since been pushed down to third by Barcelona’s Ansu Fati, the new leader at 17 years and 39 days).

Dinamo were keenly aware that Kovacic would soon outgrow them in the manner of his idol, Luka Modric, but they expected to have at least one more season to enjoy him alongside fellow prized prospect Alen Halilovic. They were at a mid-season training camp in Bosnia when Inter’s offer arrived and the strength of the Italian giants’ determination took them by surprise. The deal, worth an initial £9.7 million, wasn’t done until deadline day.

It was the second big move brought about by Kovacic’s prodigious talent. Six years earlier his father, Stipe, had relocated the family from the Austrian city of Linz to Zagreb at the invitation of Dinamo. Mateo had impressed in a game against them as a 10-year-old for LASK Linz and was rewarded with a chance to develop at a club with a unique appeal to Croatia’s most talented young footballers — as well as an unrivalled track record of helping them to fulfil their potential.

Kovacic’s parents had returned to Linz by the time the Inter move materialised, leaving him in the care of grandparents, but Italy would be his first experience living away from his family entirely. “He arrived in Milan very young and in an important dressing room full of legends as Javier Zanetti, Diego Milito, Esteban Cambiasso, Dejan Stankovic,” Stramaccioni says.

“I remember that Samir Handanovic and Stankovic helped him to get slowly more involved in the team. He is a really positive and quiet personality outside the pitch, but serious and quite a hard worker in every single session.”

He took the No 10 shirt previously worn by Champions League winner Wesley Sneijder, and Stramaccioni brought him off the bench three days after his arrival, in a 3-1 away loss to Siena. “His decision to agree to wear the No 10 showed everyone he was ready to carry on a big responsibility,” Stramaccioni adds. “He was in good shape and the team for this game was in an emergency. I didn’t have any doubts about him. His first series of performances were really amazing for those who didn’t know him.”

Kovacic became a man in Italy. His chest and legs grew thicker, adding a physicality that enhanced his technical skills. Displays of bustling creativity in Europa League home wins against CFR Cluj and Tottenham earned him standing ovations from the Inter fans, who voted him “Young Revelation of the Year” at the club’s end-of-season awards.

Stramaccioni was replaced by former Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri, who imagined his young midfielder as a roving No 8 in the mould of Marek Hamsik. It was a difficult adjustment that resulted in less regular game time and moments of self-doubt. After one particularly fierce dressing down from Mazzarri in a training session, Handanovic pulled the visibly downcast Kovacic to one side.

“Don’t worry about it,” he told him. “You’ll play for Real Madrid or Barcelona one day.”


Madrid first tried to sign Kovacic in 2014. Talks took place while he was representing Croatia at the World Cup in Brazil but he ultimately decided it was too soon. The sales pitch — of joining the biggest club in the world and throwing himself fully into the role of Modric’s heir for club as well as country — was an enticing one but he had yet to make himself indispensable to Mazzarri at Inter. It was an understandable decision but also remarkably assured for a young footballer with first-hand experience of just how perilous the road to the top can be.

According to those close to him, Kovacic cried for days when he broke his leg at the age of 14. He feared that his chances of justifying his status as the jewel in Dinamo’s academy might be ruined. “It was difficult for me, but not just me, also my family,” he said in an interview with Chelsea in July 2019. “They had moved and sacrificed everything, and then maybe it was over.” After eight months on the sidelines, he quickly regained his elite trajectory but the memory of what might have been could not be forgotten.

A year after Madrid’s initial approach, Kovacic had improved his stock at Inter under new coach Roberto Mancini, making 35 Serie A appearances and scoring a career-best five goals. Circumstances at the club had changed, however; Inter were in danger of violating Financial Fair Play (FFP) and sending Kovacic to Spain for €29 million was their easiest way out. “We are all disappointed, from the president to the players, but faced with rules, we have to make sacrifices,” Mancini said.

Modric welcomed Kovacic — who, as a 14-year-old, had shyly requested a photograph with Modric at Dinamo’s training ground — to Madrid with open arms. He drove his younger countryman to and from training and they socialised together with their partners. “When I came to Madrid, our friendship became incredible,” Kovacic said in an interview with Chelsea. “He gave me a lot of attention and we were together all the time. In those three years, we had an amazing relationship with our families and, until now, we talk every two or three days.

“Football connected us, but outside the pitch is the most important thing. It’s great to have friends like him, and it’s for a lifetime.”

Rafa Benitez, familiar with his new signing from his second spell in Serie A with Napoli, deployed him fairly regularly in a variety of midfield roles despite a wealth of more illustrious, experienced options. When the Spaniard was sacked in January 2016 and replaced by Zinedine Zidane, however, Kovacic’s relative youth began to work against him for the first time in his career.

So too did the fact that he wasn’t a galatico signing. One person in a position of influence at Madrid at the time told The Athletic: “He is a good professional and nice lad. His problem was that he was not famous, so he didn’t have too much support from the top.”

Having started just 19 times in La Liga and only twice in the Champions League en route to Madrid’s second consecutive triumph, Kovacic went into the summer of 2017 keen to leave. The succession wasn’t going to plan; far from fading, the 31-year-old Modric was in the form of his life, forming the best midfield partnership in world football with Toni Kroos. He was convinced to give it one more year but Zidane gave him little cause for optimism.

Kovacic’s support status was underlined in that final season by twice being detailed to man-mark Lionel Messi in Clasicos. The first time, in a 3-1 win for Madrid at Camp Nou in the Spanish Super Cup, he earned praise for his diligence. The second, when he stuck to Messi’s side even as Ivan Rakitic surged past him to create Barcelona’s opening goal for Luis Suarez in a 3-0 humiliation at Santiago Bernabeu, saw him made the scapegoat.

Injuries to Zidane’s other midfield options allowed Kovacic to play a significant role in Madrid’s run to a fourth Champions League final in five years, but the final straw was drawn when he failed to even make the bench as they beat Liverpool in Kiev. Chelsea had first registered an interest a year earlier and director Marina Granovskaia moved quickly to agree a loan deal when the opportunity arose.

Madrid were reluctant to let Kovacic go, but he was insistent and, once he had left, he never had any intention of going back. “After three years filled with trophies, I have decided to move on,” he posted on Instagram. “Even though our paths now separate, I want to say a big thank you to Real Madrid family and all the fans for an amazing part of my life I will never forget.”


Kovacic left Madrid because he wanted to feel essential to a team again — and he got his wish at Chelsea. Maurizio Sarri gave him more league starts (21) than he had in any of his three seasons in Spain, as well as picking him 12 times on the run to Europa League victory. While the winners’ medal he collected in Baku was the 10th major honour of his career, it was one of the first since leaving Dinamo that he felt he had truly earned on the pitch.

But there was still a sense under Sarri that Kovacic’s game was slightly inhibited — not least in the way that was highlighted against Bayern. He is averaging 4.7 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season with a 79.3 per cent success rate, compared to only 3.2 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes last season with a 67.7 per cent success rate. That level of volume and efficiency is unrivalled among central midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues.

Dribbling has always been Kovacic’s most dazzling gift and the one that separates him most clearly from Modric. During a match at under-17 level for Dinamo against bitter rivals Hajduk Split, he slalomed his way through half of the opposition team and then, as he was clean through on the goalkeeper, squared the ball for a team-mate to tap the ball into the empty net. The ability has translated into the senior game, making him a unique weapon: the most dynamic ball-carrying central midfielder in world football. A data analyst at Madrid once told him that he is a faster dribbler than Messi.

There are, of course, more fundamental skills that central midfielders require. Kovacic is also an elite possessional passer, which is why he so enjoys playing with Jorginho, but he still needs to find a way to be more impactful in the final third; his expected goals per 90 minutes of 0.05, expected assists per 90 of 0.09 and key passes per 90 of 1.33 in the Premier League this season all compare unfavourably with N’Golo Kante, never mind Chelsea’s more creative options.

Kovacic took more than 20 months to score his first Serie A goal at Inter, and he arrived at Chelsea in the midst of another mammoth goal drought. His low shot into the bottom corner from 25 yards against Valencia at Mestalla in November ended a barren run of 122 appearances stretching back three years. He celebrated by sticking his thumb to his nose and making a playful hand gesture in tribute to his nieces, one of whom has Down’s syndrome.

“It’s nice when you score and you can celebrate with the family,” he said afterward. “They have waited a long time but now I hope I can continue like that.” Another goal arrived against Everton less than a fortnight later, but the broader body of evidence suggests Lampard has a lot more work to do to convince Kovacic to scale back his unselfish tendencies.


Lampard is unlikely to ever transform Kovacic into a prolific goalscorer from midfield but the unique blend of abilities the Croatian does possess — the speed, the dribbling, the passing range, the tactical intelligence and the work ethic — offer a growing body of evidence that he is capable of being a foundational midfield pillar of the next great Chelsea side.

Kovacic’s mental attributes also mark him out. When he arrived in the summer of 2018, officials at Cobham were struck by the way he carried himself and the winning attitude he brought with him after three years of staggering team success with Madrid. He settled in quickly, his five languages — in addition to Croatian, he also learned English at school and speaks Italian, Spanish and German fluently — enabling him to talk to most of his new team-mates in their native tongues.

He is devoutly Catholic and leads a quiet life away from the pitch in London with his wife, Izabel, whom he met in church at the age of 14 when he was an altar boy and she was a choir singer. They run a foundation that bears his name and sponsors a clinic for children with autism, Down’s syndrome and other developmental problems in Croatia. He also made a number of donations to hospitals in Zagreb after the city was significantly damaged by an earthquake last month.

At times, Kovacic has found it hard to hide his nice side on the pitch. “We were playing a key game in San Siro against Juventus and the referee whistled something against him,” Stramaccioni recalls. “It was maybe wrong but he never used to complain. This time he had a little reaction with him — but after a few seconds, he stopped himself and said sorry to the referee!

“He was very young but I never met another player who behaved like that. A fighter with a gentleman spirit — that’s Mateo.”

Kovacic’s personality is not that of a natural leader; never the most vocal on the pitch, he is still a little shy off it and generally reluctant to do interviews. But the nature of his game — constantly receiving the ball under pressure in tight spaces and regularly trying to commit several opponents with the ball at his feet — dictates that he takes responsibility for the team.

He has not captained a team regularly since his days in the Dinamo academy, where they still remember the most remarkable example of his leadership style. At the end of another heated clash with Hajduk at under-16 level, a mass brawl broke out. Kovacic took his shirt off and handed it to the assistant coach before piling in.

When they got back into the dressing room and the assistant asked why he had taken his shirt off, the teenager replied: “If I have to fight, I don’t want to in the Dinamo jersey.”

Kovacic remains some way down the pecking order of future Chelsea captains but he has done enough this season to convince Lampard that he is worth building around. At 25, there is every reason to believe he has his best years ahead of him and there have been more than enough flashes so far to suggest his best years will be worth watching.

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Definitely the key to build the midfield is him. 

We all thought it would be Kante, Jorginho but what a surprised it has been him. 

Now we need to figure if we are going to sell Kante or Jorginho. I do hope we don't make the same mistake like we did with Willian where we could have sold and now he is leaving for free. If PSG still want Kante, lets see if we can get some money from them. Jorgi I'm sure Sarri would still love to have him at Juve so there's a market. 

It's going to be tough but let' see what Lampard and company do with the duo of Kante/Jorginho. 

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  • Jase changed the title to 8. Mateo Kovacic

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