The 25 year old Croatian midfielder joined Chelsea on loan last season and is now set to be confirmed as a permanent transfer. A highly controversial figure among fans here’s an analysis of where Kovacic excels and needs improvement to succeed at Chelsea.
Kovacic plays as a central midfielder, often in a midfield 3. He largely operated on the left side of the three under Maurizio Sarri and played a more advanced role than Kante or Jorginho who he played alongside in midfield. Kovacic is very strong at working in tight areas to avoid pressure. He averaged 1.5 dribbles per game and was fouled 1.3 times per game.
His passing was extremely impressive, Kovacic averaged 45.9 passes per game and completed 92.2% of those. Very impressive figures for the midfielder. However, although completing a high number of passes Kovacic only managed 2 assists for the entire season. Kovacic also became too passive at times when on the ball and kept possession for too long if a direct passing option was unavailable. Something which hints at the player either lacking confidence to take risks or simply being too timid with his play overall.
Defensively, Kovacic could be a lot better considering his athleticism. In the Premier League, he had 45 tackles in 32 appearances and completed at 64%. Aerially Kovacic has major space for improvement, winning only 52% of aerial duals.
Overall Kovacic has a fairly strong game, however large criticisms of his game are his lack of product. In the entire season he failed to score a single goal and only had 2 assists. However, Kovacic hasn’t always lacked product. In the 14/15 season he played at Inter, he managed to score 8 goals and assist 5 times for the club. Playing a similar advanced role to which he did at Chelsea. Therefore, it’s not a lack of ability with Kovacic in my opinion, but much rather mental.
For one reason or another Kovacic has lost confidence in his game, possibly due to a lack of playing time across several seasons at Madrid. He seems to lack that instinct he once had to make that final pass or get into shooting positions. However, the role Kovacic played under Sarri wasn’t to his strengths either. Sarri’s system placed large emphasis on goals from midfield which meant Kovacic needed to be more offensive than ever before in his career as Kante and Jorginho weren’t known for their attacking ability. This could largely be responsible for Kovacic’s struggles at times. Having to play a key offensive role in a complicated system after several seasons of playing low minutes is a difficult task for any player. Particularly in a league with such high intensity.
With Lampard coming to the club as coach there’s two ways to restore Kovacic to his best. Trust one of the greatest goal scoring midfielders to help Kovacic find that spark again and keep him in an advanced position or to play him as a Regista playing in a double pivot.
In my opinion, with the injury to Loftus-Cheek, the former option is better for Chelsea. Especially considering the fact Jorginho will likely hold the Regista role in Lampard’s side as well as Kovacic’s defensive criticisms at times. There’s no doubt Kovacic is a very talented player. He has many phenomenal qualities but needs to find that attacking spark he once had. There’s no better man to help him than Lampard and with Chelsea paying a fee of around £45m it’s hard to see him being a reserve. If you consider the system he’ll be playing in under Lampard compared to Sarri, Kovacic will likely play in a role more suited to his qualities as he’ll be allowed to work the tight areas in the centre of the pitch due to Lampard’s compact and central play.
In conclusion, I’m a fan of the signing. Kovacic can develop into the great midfielder clubs like Real Madrid thought he would be. If he finds his attacking instincts once more, he’ll be a major asset for Chelsea particularly considering the transfer ban the blues have.