Mateo Kovačić may have been born in Austria, but he’s certainly familiar with the generally raucous fans up and down the Balkan peninsula, including in his country of parentage as well as next door neighbors Serbia.
Kovačić himself played for three years as a teenager in front of the Dinamo Zagreb faithful — not to mention the Croatian national team — so when he talks of the “atmosphere” affecting visiting teams, he’s probably speaking from experience gleaned through personal observation. And while hardcore fans in Croatia will never want to be confused for hardcore fans in Serbia, as far as Liverpool were concerned two nights ago in the Serbian capital, the net effect was about the same: a sudden loss of mojo leading to shock defeat as Marko Marin inspired a famous 2-0 win for Red Star Belgrade.
It’s a situation that should serve as a warning for Chelsea today in Belarus. Kovačić is confident Chelsea will not succumb to it, just as the Blues avoided getting intimidated by the boiling cauldron of PAOK in Thessaloniki at the start of these Europa League group stage matches.
“I watched the [Liverpool] game yesterday. They struggled a lot because in Belgrade the atmosphere is tough and it is difficult to play there, like here will be as well. Very difficult, and these are games where you need to concentrate a lot because if you do not then you lose the game, so tomorrow we need to be prepared so what happened yesterday does not happen to us.”
Confident words from the Real Madrid loanee, certainly, though that confidence is rooted in the reality of Chelsea’s three-month unbeaten run, which, after Juventus somehow managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of a dominant victory over Manchester United last night, leaves Chelsea the only unbeaten team (in all competitions) in the top five European leagues.
A list of teams unbeaten in all competitions from Europe's top five leagues:— bet365 (@bet365) November 7, 2018
1. Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea
End of list. pic.twitter.com/IVHvAdJnpZ
It’s a bit of statistical trivia that sounds good — and only works if we ignore the semi-friendly Community Shield loss to Manchester City, which a certain Special manager actually counts as an actual trophy these days — but it masks the stark improvement required in a few phases of the game. Chelsea are nowhere near peak Sarrismo, but that’s probably a good thing.
“We are in a perfect mood. We are doing good in our league and we are doing good in all competitions so this team wants to play football, we enjoy it, and every game we have an opportunity to show ourselves, so tomorrow we will be prepared and give our best to win the game.
“[It’s] a good thing [that] we are still unbeaten and we have not played at our highest level. We are with the coach only three months and of course it needs time to understand completely and to work on his football. I think we are doing a great job and I am sure in every training and every game we will be better and better. [But] I think we are doing good because the team is a great talent and we can already do a great season this year.”
-Mateo Kovačić; source: Chelsea FC
But first things first, victory in Borisov will make it 17 unbeaten in a row, and ensure qualification for the Europa League knockout rounds with two games to spare. Let’s go!