Frank Lampard’s Chelsea side ended their time in Japan with an impressive showing against Barcelona, winning the game 2-1 thanks to goals from English duo Tammy Abraham and Ross Barkley. There were notable performances from Christian Pulisic, playing in his second game for the club, Kepa, who returned from illness and from the new pivot partnership of Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho, who had the Barcelona midfield on strings at times. The Croatian will play a vital part in Chelsea’s upcoming campaign and he can finally leave the shadows of his former Real Madrid teammates to become reborn in West London.
Strength in depth
It may have been strange to see Chelsea complete a signing whilst under a transfer ban but because Kovacic was registered as a Chelsea player before his loan expired, they were able to keep hold of him permanently. The £40m man could be one of the signings of the summer and prove to be hugely imperative to Chelsea this coming season. They can’t sign any players as the transfer ban will carry on from this off-season to the January transfer window so Lampard is left the exact squad he inherited when he was appointed earlier this month. Kovacic can play anywhere in central midfield – that’s including a more advanced role and a deeper one too. It’s this sort of versatility that will aid the new Blues boss hugely. Say there is an injury to Jorginho, Kovacic can deputise in holding midfield and the same goes for Ross Barkley or Mason Mount in that more advanced number ten role.
He’s a quality talent
Kovacic is immensely gifted but was often left stuck behind Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the heart of Madrid’s midfield, which is no fault of his own. At Chelsea, he will be given the opportunity to show the world his true potential. Last season, his performances drew mixed opinion but I’d be happy to write any negatives off through the playing style of ex-manager Maurizio Sarri. The World Cup runner-up has won three Champions League trophies – that’s one less than Lionel Messi. Quite some achievement. The 25-year-old was one of the standout performers in the Europa League final thumping over local rivals Arsenal – he ran the show, looking dynamic and courageous in the tackle and was also a regular outlet in allowing Eden Hazard to shine on the left-wing.
He will flourish in a new role
Despite playing 51 games for The Blues last term, there were still a number of question marks above Kovacic’s head. What was his best position? Six? Eight? Well, that should be about to change under the new manager. Lampard deployed the Croatian international alongside Jorginho as a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 system and it paid dividends. Kovacic handled Barcelona’s famous pressing game like it were nothing, as if the likes of Sergio Busquets and Antoine Griezmann were simply substandard lower league opposition. It’s this role that will allow him to thrive and as aforementioned, he can play in any other central position when called upon. Lampard’s comments on the box-to-box star after that game could certainly inspire him to stardom at Stamford Bridge next season: “I think there’s so much talent there and I really like him. I’m really pleased, we know we’ve got numbers in midfield areas but I can’t help but be excited by some of the elements in his performance today and I think there’s even more to come.”