Thomas Tuchel has been left to rue his decision to drop Mateo Kovacic in Chelsea’s Champions League quarter-final clash against Real Madrid. The 27-year-old, who despite his spritely displays this season, was relegated to the bench and made way for a double pivot of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho.
The duo struggled to get a hold of the bout, and while their efforts didn’t entirely contribute towards Los Blancos’ demolition of the Blues, Kovacic’s absence was undoubtedly felt. Kante made way for the Croatia international at half-time, though Eduoard Mendy’s harrowing mistake just moments into the second-half tarnished the midfielder’s glaring impact.
While there was an obvious improvement to the west London side’s performance in the second-half, Kovacic’s omission left a sour taste on proceedings. Tuchel showered the midfielder with praise in the pre-match press conference and labelled him a ‘wonderkid’ who soared to superstardom in recent years.
“He looks like a wonderkid in training, in some exercises.” the German boss said. “He’s a fantastic character, a lovely person, a humble guy interested in sport, and so happy to train and deliver for the team.
“I was following his career, and you could see there was a next step coming, and I was sure he had what it takes to make it. I’m so happy to have him, and he’s crucial to us both on and off the pitch in the way he behaves. Brought up as a team player, knows what it takes, what culture is needed in a big club.
And, for many, Tuchel’s comments suggested that the Croatian would start for Chelsea ahead of what was a highly anticipated clash. But, to Blues fans’ dismay, Kovacic was dropped.
He quickly reminded his boss — and prospective Chelsea owner Todd Boehly, who was in attendance — that he warrants an indisputable place in Chelsea’s starting eleven. Should Tuchel feel that he’s in a position to drop, Kovacic should not be his problem but the board.
With the summer transfer window just around the corner and a new owner — hopefully — looking to splash the cash, it must be a priority to build Chelsea’s midfield around the number eight. The Blues’ next midfield signing must be brought in to tactically supplement Kovacic, who has more than proved his encyclopaedic ability to influence games at the highest level.