Mateo Kovačić has been arguably Chelsea’s best, or at least most consistently good, player all season, and that was certainly true last night even as Bayern Munich handled the Blues with ease in all phases of play, including midfield.
Alas, there’s only so much 1 player can do in a game of 11-a-side, especially as Kovačić’s greatest strengths are on the ball, not off of it. But the harsh truth is that of all the players in blue last night, only Kovačić was operating at the level of the visitors.
Kovačić vs Bayern (H)— JMH (@ChelseaCentral_) February 25, 2020
✅ 89% passing accuracy
✅ 47 passes completed
✅ 76 touches
✅ 2 key passes
✅ 3/3 long balls completed
✅ 8/9 dribbles completed
✅ 14/17 ground duels won
✅ 5 tackles
✅ 2 interceptions
✅ 1 clearance
The only player that can say they gave it their all. pic.twitter.com/fUyauEWsfo
Head coach Frank Lampard, himself intimately familiar with that level certainly from back in the day, singled out the 25-year-old three-time Champions League-winner after what was otherwise a hammer-blow of a reality check.
“There were a couple of performances in our team, mainly Kovačić, that played with a personality and a quality that makes you go ‘he could play in any team with that level’. Other than that, we need to see it wasn’t a night we showed that.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that others won’t get there in the future, but it does mean that they have quite a ways to go yet.
“Bayern Munich’s levels were fantastic. Unless we were to get everything right it was going to be a tough night. We didn’t get everything bang on, we weren’t confident on the ball. That was my biggest disappointment, mostly from start to finish.
“We want to play here, we’ve shown that all season, but today we went away from that. That can happen in an intense atmosphere when all eyes are on. It was a harsh lesson and a reality for the players of the levels we want to get to.”
Fortunately, the players whom we need to get to that level are young, motivated, and willing to learn, as we’ve seen since the start of the season.
Unfortunately, it has not been and still will not be an instantaneous process, and there will be plenty more bumps in the road, undoubtedly.
(And we also have the funds that, if spent wisely, can boost the team to the next level in certain key positions. Whether that’s fortunate or unfortunate will depend entirely on the amount of wisdom applied.)
“They need to use [this experience] to positive effect, even if it may not feel like that this evening. [...] When you have an eye-opener like tonight, the only answer, young or old, is to not look at any other part of the team but yourself. ‘Who was I up against, who was my direct competitor? How do I feel I played against them?’”
“We chose a system that played well at the weekend. I knew it would work differently today, allow them a lot more possession by having the extra man at the back, but the extra man would also give us some extra security. After that it’s match-ups. That was a learning curve for us.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC
While we must always exercise some caution in making overarching proclamations based off just one game, this notion and Lampard shining a harsh light on it are nothing new.
Now that they’ve been exposed this harshly, all we can do is show a bit of character and keep working towards the club’s short-term goals (top-four, FA Cup run) and executing to the long-term plan that was set in motion last summer.
This may be our level now. Once we digest and come to terms with that, we can concentrate on rising above it (without tearing down the foundations that are being laid as we speak).