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Talking Tactics

How Kovacic's impact has put Kante's place in doubt

Adrian Clarke 16 Sep 2021

Adrian Clarke says Croat has become Chelsea's midfield lynchpin and can dictate against Spurs

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 5.

Mateo Kovacic (CHE)

Kovacic has proved his worth to Thomas Tuchel during the early stages of 2021/22 with a series of exceptional displays in central midfield.

The in-form Croat gave a sumptuous performance in last weekend's 3-0 home win over Aston Villa.

Kovacic created Romelu Lukaku’s first goal with a superb through-ball after getting beyond two Villa players in his own half.

Then, after the break, he capitalised on a weak back-pass from Tyrone Mings to score his first goal at Stamford Bridge.

Kovacic's impact v Villa

Kovacic has competition from N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Saul Niguez for a starting place in Chelsea’s midfield, but on current form he should be considered first choice for Tuchel.

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On Sunday, Chelsea are likely to control possession against a Tottenham Hotspur side who prefer to sit off and counter-attack.

Kovacic relishes this scenario and is playing with enough confidence to dictate a midfield battle against Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

Despite starting only three of Chelsea's opening four matches, he has made significantly more successful passes inside the opposition half than any of his Chelsea team-mates.

His pass accuracy, long and short, is also exemplary.

When Kovacic gets on the ball, Chelsea’s forwards will come alive, especially Lukaku, who loves to make runs beyond the last defender.

Kovacic's influence for Chelsea
2021/22 Total  Chelsea rank
Mins played 297 5th
Succ. passes in opp. half 123 1st
Long pass accuracy % 76.5 1st
Pass accuracy % 91.8 2nd

For the last six years, Kante has been one of the world’s most accomplished midfielders, performing brilliantly in both defence and attack.

The fact the Frenchman is no longer a guaranteed starter underlines Kovacic's progress.

Kovacic has always been graceful on the ball, creating space with a dummy and dribble, but this season he has impressed in all facets of the game.

Not only is he Chelsea’s best dribbler, he has also become a defensive lynchpin and goal threat rolled into one.

He is joint-top of Chelsea’s rankings for most shots, excluding blocks. He shares the most ball recoveries with Jorginho, and he leads the way for winning back possession inside the final third.

Kovacic's attacking and defensive stats
2021/22 Total Chelsea rank
Attempted dribbles 10 1st
Completed dribbles 6 1st
Shots (exc. blocks) 7 =1st
Poss. won in final third 4 1st
Ball recoveries 24 =1st

Kovacic's performance is likely to have a big bearing on the result against a Spurs side who will be determined to bounce back from last weekend's 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace.

If he and Jorginho, or Kante, maintain their current levels, it will be highly difficult for the hosts to get any kind of foothold in the match.

At 27 years of age, Kovacic may well be playing the best football of his career. In a Chelsea midfield stacked with a number of talented stars, he is the player shining brightest.

Also in this series

Part 1: How Brentford have built one of the league's best defences
Part 2: Newcastle have the pace to exploit Leeds weakness
Part 3: Ronaldo's surprising role can pose West Ham problems

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