Mateo Kovačić has been Chelsea’s best player this season — okay fine, arguably, but really, he has been — and is making his £40m (loan-turned-)transfer last summer look like not only an opportunistic bit of business amid a transfer ban, but a very good one indeed.
Freed from a more rigid midfield setup under Maurizio Sarri, Kovačić has been showcasing his dribbling and passing skills all season to great effect, while also putting in the effort defensively (as much as he can) with some crunching tackles (only César Azpilicueta has tackled more players).
Only Willian has attempted more dribbles (71 vs 69; both with 51 successful) and progressed the ball a greater distance (5033 vs. 4262 yds), but at the same time, Kovačić has less than a third of Willian’s mis-controls and lost possessions (47+32 vs. 19+10). Basically, Kovačić not only progresses the ball — he certainly won’t ever be accused of only passing safely sideways and backwards — but does so in a relative safe manner in the most crucial area of the pitch. (All numbers from FBref.)
Of course, Kovačić isn’t perfect. No player ever is. Fortunately, he has the perfect coach to help him fix the holes in his game, most notably the goal-scoring part.
Kovačić has just 21 goals in 367 professional appearances — and only 5 in the last 5 seasons combined. It’s not quite Mikel (11 in 451 and counting) or Makélélé (25 in 802) level, but Mateo’s also not exactly a defensive midfielder.
Frank Lampard once scored 27 in a season, and had five seasons (in a row!) of 20 or more goals.
“Frank Lampard came to the team and from the first moment our feeling was good. I liked the way he was training us — really hard training! — and I liked his character, how he was speaking to the team.
“I think I can learn a lot from him because all the things that I’m missing in my game — scoring goals, being more direct — are the things Lampard was amazing at in his career.
“He’s a great manager, he’s a great person, and I think I can learn a lot from him during my time at Chelsea.”
-Mateo Kovačić; source: Instagram
Kovačić said similar things earlier in the season as well, so it’s good to see the feeling continue. And he’s even scored a couple times!
Having turned 26 recently, Kovačić should be just about in the prime of his career. If he can add a few more goals and a bit more direct scoreboard impact, we’re going to have some great times together indeed.