Chelsea have an easy decision to make in the midfield department after Mateo Kovacic shone brightly again in Tuesday’s 2-1 win at RB Salzburg. Graham Potter’s side progressed into the Champions League last 16 as Group E winners with their third win on the bounce in the competition.
Kovacic made headlines as Chelsea drew 1-1 against Manchester United at the weekend. Potter brought the 28-year-old on and changed from a 3-4-3 to a 4-4-2 after just 36 minutes after United controlled the opening stages at Stamford Bridge, changing the course of the game.
And he helped make the difference again in a hard-fought clash in Austria, opening the scoring with a sumptuous weak-footed first-half strike from range. Aside from his goal, Kovacic boasted a 100 per cent record for ground duels, long balls, and dribbles completed and maintained an 86 per cent pass accuracy before the break.
He was a standout player on the pitch before making way for Ruben Loftus-Cheek on 68 minutes. And with uncertainty growing over the evening’s captain Jorginho and N’Golo Kante’s futures, the next steps Chelsea must take with Kovacic couldn’t be clearer.
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The Blues are understood to be managing Kovacic’s workload carefully after he missed a month earlier in the season through injury. But when given a chance to play, it doesn’t take him long to catch the eye, and he’s emerging as a potential stalwart of Potter’s midfield for years to come.
The Croatia international’s contract expires at the end of next season, and Chelsea reportedly plan to open talks over extending his stay after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He is open to negotiating a new deal, now settled in west London after getting married to his long-time partner and becoming a father for the first time.
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Elsewhere within Potter’s midfield ranks, Kante, 31, and Jorginho, also 31 in December, are out of contract at the end of the current campaign. With Conor Gallagher already challenging for a starting berth and Chelsea’s continuous links to a high-profile midfield signing, Potter wouldn’t be out of place to let both leave and kick-start a new era with Kovacic the face of the regiment.
Jorginho has flirted with the prospect of a new challenge, while Kante is out injured until February in the latest setback of an injury-plagued period of his career. Kovacic is proving his worth and passing his Potter audition with flying colours ahead of a fascinating couple of transfer windows.
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