Chelsea arrived in Seville for last night’s Champions League quarterfinal as a practically fully fit squad, with only Andreas Christensen and N’Golo Kanté carrying minor fitness concerns — Kanté hadn’t started a match since the international break while Christensen missed the Palace match over the weekend.
But reports started filtering out of the Chelsea camp the night before the match that Mateo Kovačić may have picked up an injury in training, and sure enough, when the lineups were announced, our reigning Player of the Year was nowhere to be found.
After the game, head coach Thomas Tuchel confirmed the unfortunate news that Kovačić has become the latest hamstring victim of this busy, condensed, intense season. And it’s an injury that doesn’t sound very minor unfortunately.
“It was very sad to see [Kovačić] yesterday after 20 minutes in training, to have this little muscle injury from more or less out of nothing. We played in the boxes for the second day after training [at Cobham] just to have a little sweat and he felt his hamstring.
“So I think, for sure, for the game against City he is out, it is a big loss [...] he is such an important player and such a positive player with a lot of experience.”
Kovačić had started our last five games in a row — the only player on the team to do so: not even Édouard Mendy could claim that — and he was heavily involved for Croatia as well during the break. These things have a way of catching up with players, and it was Kova’s turn to lose that gamble.
Fortunately, another gamble paid off a bit better for Chelsea last night with N’Golo Kanté pressed into service and coming through unscathed — so far anyway; knock on wood — and putting in another great performance alongside the equally impressive Jorginho. Hopefully they can both recover in time for Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City!
“We were not sure if N’Golo would start today if we had everybody available but [we risked] NG because it was not a risk for re-injury it was just a question can we push him for 90 minutes or maybe 90 minutes plus 30 extra time from the start or was it more important that he finish the game and plays maybe one half, the second half or 30 minutes. So there was no choice left.
“But NG did a fantastic job like always [...] NG on the field it is always a pleasure. He works. He has a work-rate that is absolutely outstanding. He gives everybody a good feeling and a lot of encouragement.
“So I am happy for him, now it is time to recover good because we play Saturday again in the semi final. So we need good recovery. Hopefully we catch some good sleep, we fly home tomorrow and then we will prepare for the next game.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
Not sure that Tuchel’s distinction between a risk of reinjury and a risk of not being fully fit is actually that much of a distinction, but hopefully we won’t pay the price later — not that we really had any other choice with Billy Gilmour not traveling to Seville. Would Mason Mount or someone like Emerson deputize if Kanté couldn’t? Fortunately we didn’t have to worry about that yesterday.