Is Mateo Kovacic doing enough for Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri?
Mateo Kovacic is a name that inevitably comes up when the most promising midfielders in the game are discussed. The Croatian is universally recognized as one of the most talented players in the world . Inter Milan legend Javier Zanetti had described him as the "most promising youngster" he had seen in his 19 years the club, with the exception of Ronaldo. Meanwhile, Kovacic's coach with the U-17 national team Martin Novoselac said: "I haven't seen a youngster with so much talent since the days of Robert Prosinečki". Praise and admiration of his ability is widespread since he burst on the scene at a very young age.
Such was the admiration of his talent that big clubs were always sniffing around him. It was hardly a surprise that a team as gigantic as Real Madrid purchased him when he was just 21 in the summer of 2015. He was touted to be a talent that was too good to not hold of, and Real Madrid pounced on the opportunity to sign him.
However, Kovacic's big move did not pay the rewards one would have expected. Through his three years at the club, the Croatian failed to cement a place as a regular starter. Most of his time at Santiago Bernabeu has gone either as a fringe player, or on the bench. While it does not look good for a player of his caliber, it's fair to say that not many players in the world will be able to displace Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
Realizing the need for game time, Kovacic decided to leave Real Madrid. While he failed to earn a permanent transfer, Florentino Perez granted him a loan move to Chelsea. With Maurizio Sarri's arrival in London, Chelsea's midfield was in the process of a complete makeover. It was clear that the Italian coach wanted Kovacic to be this third midfielder alongside Jorginho and N'Golo Kante.
Followers of Napoli will be aware of the importance of the left-center-midfielder in Sarri's system. It's a role that Marek Hamsik excelled in Naples. The Slovakian scored 25 goals and 22 assists in the Serie A during Sarri's time at the club. Evidently, the role requires the player to be the team's creative spark as well as chip in with a few goals.
However, these are things Kovacic has simply failed to do for Sarri. In 21 league appearances in the Premier League for Chelsea, he is yet to score a single goal and has only two assists to his name. Since his move to Inter Milan, the Croatian has scored only nine goals in seven seasons. Only in one of those campaigns, he has found the back of the net more than once. While Chelsea's deepest-lying midfielder Jorginho has come under massive scrutiny for his lack of assists, it's surprising that Kovacic has escaped criticism in that regard. So far in his Chelsea career, Kovacic is yet to show the ability to play an incisive final pass, make runs into the box and ultimately score a goal or two. The less said about his shooting, the better.
This is not to say that Kovacic is not a useful player for the team. His ball carrying and dribbling capabilities are as good as anyone around. The former Real Madrid player is also the most press resistant player in the team. One barely sees him losing the ball or easily giving the ball away to the opponent. He is also extremely reliable defensively and someone the manager can always trust to put in a defensive shift.
However, it is clearly not enough for what the most advanced midfielder in a Sarri team needs to contribute. Especially against teams which sit deep, Chelsea requires a player in that role who is more potent in the final third. It is a mere fact that N'Golo Kante has contributed more end product this season than Kovacic. Its high time that Sarri starts looking for alternatives for this position and Ruben Loftus Cheek is a perfect option waiting in the wings. The Chelsea academy graduate already has six goals across all competitions this season. despite the limited game time.
In the summer, Chelsea will have to make a decision on whether or not to sign Kovacic on a permanent deal. At the moment most Chelsea fans are surely not in favor of him staying beyond this season. While that will be a harsh judgment, it's not surprising why that is the mood of the Stamford Bridge faithful. However, Sarri might be wise to consider him in other positions. There is some evidence to point that Kovacic might look a better player at the right side of midfield when he does not have the burden of making things happen. Due to his ability to withstand a press and retain possession, he could also be a worthy backup to Jorginho.
If Chelsea want a midfielder who contributes with goals and assists from midfield, Kovacic is far from the answer. In his current role under Maurizio Sarri, Kovacic reminds one of a showpiece at someone's house. He is someone one likes to display to the world as their own, but is not adding any real utility. As the most advanced midfielder, Kovacic is extremely attractive to watch and has a lot of flair, but lacks substance.