Building a successful team capable of challenging on multiple fronts at the same time requires an almost impossible balancing act between (quality) squad depth and player happiness. We want the backups to be as good as the starters, but players who are good enough to start are rarely happy to be backups.
It’s a conundrum for both players and clubs, and one that Mateo Kovačić can intimately relate to. After all, the precise reason he’s here on loan at Chelsea is because he got tired of scrapping for seconds at Real Madrid. But competition for minutes is expected at any top club. So while he’s winning the battle and getting the nod more often than not from Sarri, Mateo knows that the season is long, competition strong, and the minutes plentiful.
“One day I play then the next day Ross, then Ruben, we have a lot of players. N’Golo [Kante], [Cesc] Fabregas, Jorginho, so a lot of quality in the midfield. It’s normal you can’t play every game so we are supporting each other. The season is long and we need every player.
“We have a good team, we have 22 or 23 players who can always play. That’s really important for the full season. In the end, the coach chooses who will play but we are all prepared. We are footballers but we are 25 players so we need to support each other.”
It’s probably easier to proclaim such idealistic synergies when you’re top of the pecking order of course, but the irony of the situation is probably not lost on the player who’s apparently nicknamed “The Professor”.
It’s also not lost on the 24-year-old that even though Chelsea have not lost ever since he joined the club, there is plenty of room for improvement both as a team and individually.
“We are playing very nice football, people like it, but we can do much better.
“The midfielders need to score more goals, me obviously, and Ruben scored three against BATE so he did well.
“We need to play much better because we have a lot of quality in our team. I hope to score soon too, but in the end it’s important we play good football and push forward.”
Goals have never been a key feature of Kovačić’s game and thus represent a clear opportunity to improve, especially as both Barkley and Loftus-Cheek have the capacity for a fair few. Then again, the solution could also be to find room for two of the three at the same time (a la Thursday night), instead of just rotating the three through one position.
That part is up to Sarri to figure out. For the players themselves, it’s just about having fun, supporting each other, and building momentum.
“There is no pressure. Why? We like to play football and we are enjoying every moment, every training session, so it’s just joy, not pressure. We are still unbeaten but we need to look forward because we are not first in the league so we need to look ahead to get as many points as possible.”
-Mateo Kovačić; source: Mail
Life is easy when you’re winning. Let’s not complicate things.