Can Thomas Tuchel bring the best out of Mateo Kovacic?

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Kovacic celebrates his first Chelsea goal against Valencia last season (Image credit: Goal.com)

Through the years at Chelsea, many players have come and gone. Many players are favoured by particular managers, then once that manager is gone, the player loses his touch. It’s a vicious cycle that can seriously tarnish a player’s ability. In this piece, I’m going to discuss how Thomas Tuchel can prevent this from happening with Mateo Kovacic.

Kovacic has been a fantastic addition to the Chelsea side since his arrival in 2018. ‘Kova’ shone in his season-long loan spell, enough to earn himself a permanent move to the Bridge last season. During last season, the Croatian set the pitch alight, with stand out performances throughout the season. This secured him the Club’s Player of the Season award, a credit to his ability and performances.

Despite the accolade, there remained a lot missing in his game. Kova struggles with precision in the final third and can be relatively weak defensively. With that being said, since Tuchel arrived at the Bridge, he has reignited a fire inside Mateo that is becoming very clear to see. In his first five league games under Tuchel, Kovacic has proved just how important he can be when he performs to this high standard. Over the five games, Mateo has racked up a pass accuracy percentage of 91% and has completed 16 of his 18 attempted dribbles. Quite the achievement.

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Kovacic in possession against Watford last season (Image credit: Chelsea News)

It is no doubt that one of his strongest qualities is his pristine dribbling, which is evident to see when he glides around the pitch, almost effortlessly. Remind you of anyone? That’s right, a certain Eden Hazard. Kova also has impeccable ball retention, and rarely looks nervous when in possession. In Chelsea’s recent game against Newcastle, Kovacic showed just how important he is to Chelsea by displaying a more ambitious side to his game. Mateo is excellent at acquiring the ball from deep and driving it into open space. One thing he is lacking is that attacking mindset, to visualise where the runners are and pick out that key pass, which if he implements into his game, Chelsea will be scoring for fun.

Kovacic also needs to develop more of an eye for goal. We have seen it on the odd occasion, the Croatian can strike a ball. Valencia in the Champions League and Everton away last season proved this. The issue is, it is such a rarity that he attempts the shot. Chelsea ultimately lack a real goal scoring midfielder, as Kante will turn on a swivel and pass back to Rudiger if his vision of the goal is slightly blocked, so Kova being more of an attacking threat would create more opportunities for Chelsea to score. With goalscoring added to his arsenal, there really is no ceiling for the 26-year-old.

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Tuchel congratulates Kovacic on his performance (Image credit: Talk Chelsea)

As Tuchel outlined after Newcastle, the whole squad often struggle with decision making. This is especially detectable with Kovacic. It’s clear to see just how imaginative Kova can be at times, the problem is that we just don’t see it enough. I feel Kovacic is weakest when paired alongside Jorginho. Now, this is in no way a negative opinion towards either player, it is just that together, they offer us little. The two can often get caught up in a possession loop of which looks attractive but limits our chance creation. It is no question just how versatile Kovacic can be, but can Tuchel pull those hidden qualities out of Kovacic and get him to the next level?

Thomas Tuchel has already proven that if something isn’t working, he will change it. Changes at half-time are relatively rare at Chelsea. Frank Lampard would often wait too late to make a change, which would limit the time the substitutes had to make an impact. With Tuchel’s ruthless attitude, I think the players will feel they have a lot more to fight for and must work harder than ever to secure their place in the side. If Tuchel can get the player who dominated against Newcastle every week, Chelsea have a serious player on their hands.

Written by @mashgreaves

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