I’ll be the first to admit it. I was not very excited about the prospect of Mateo Kovacic coming to Chelsea on loan from Real Madrid. I should also preface this by saying that I’m especially critical of players from ex-Yugoslavia since I was born and raised there. I know the quality of players from that region are almost unparalleled to any other region bar Brazil and Argentina. I had watched Kovacic at Real as well as Inter and Croatia, and he always seemed to be the almost man. Almost good enough to start at a top team but not quite.  Coming in the last 10-15 minutes to finish a 2 goal lead and give the starting midfield players a rest. He would almost make it a 3 goal lead whether it was a pass or a chance he himself was in. But, it just never would happen. 

Six league goals in over 150 appearances in Spain and Italy is not something I’d like to see in a player designated by Maurizio Sarri to play as the attacking midfielder in the Chelsea triangle. A further 18 more league appearances with zero goals hasn’t done anything to change my mind. However, watching him closely these past 5 months I have noticed what makes him a welcome addition to the club. He has unbelievable pace when he’s in the ball. He is neat and tidy in possession and seems to really link up well with Hazard. He is not afraid of big games and the pressure that comes from playing for a big club. Maybe the best thing about Kovacic is that he is so versatile in that midfield. One can see him filling in for Jorginho as the regista because he does have that wonderful Balkan technique. He can step in for Kanté because of his great engine and tracking back ability not minding doing the dirty work. Also, this being Chelsea, if Sarri does get the sack he can very well fit the system of any other manager that ends up coming in. 

Kovacic has his limitations, but his overall quality has turned this critic into a hopeful realist…as long as he’s not playing attacking midfield.

Written by @Mr_Che