Both Mateo Kovacic and Achraf Hakimi featured in two of the blockbuster matches of the weekend: Chelsea vs Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke.
Mateo Kovacic vs Manchester City:
Manchester City have once again been the dominant force in the Premier League this season. Liverpool have been the lone horse able to keep the pace, but the match provided an opportunity for Maurizo Sarri to right the wrongs after Chelsea’s dismal displays against Tottenham and Wolves. The game would involve two of the brightest, if not the best, tactical minds world football has to offer—Guardiola vs Sarri. Mateo Kovacic started in his normal left central midfield role, with Willian and Alonso accompanying him on the left side of the pitch. Sarri opted for Hazard in the false nine role, rather than play Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud.
The initial tactical tweaks made by Sarri to start out the game were apparent. The three central players—Kante, Jorghino, and Kovacic— were a tight knit group defensively and looked to close off central passing lanes. Kovacic operated, both in the attack and defensively, much more centrally than normal. For the opening 15-20 minutes of the first half, Chelsea put out a man to man high press. Kovacic found himself having to push all the way up to press the opposing center back (John Stones). More often than not, especially in the first stanza, City easily passed their way out of the press.
As the match wore on, Chelsea began to sit deeper and wait for a counter. City were dominant in possession—they had a different level of composure and control. Chelsea struggled to keep hold of the ball, while City just kept the ball circulating searching for chinks in the Chelsea armor. Kovacic had the difficult task of marking the tricky and elusive Bernado Silva. Bernado constantly looks for pockets of space in between the line and he is a nightmare to try and track. Coupled with the Bernando tracking job, Kovacic had to support Alonso and double down on Mahrez in transition. Kovacic was much more in tuned this match than vs Tottenham and was able to perform admirably defensively, keeping the citizens off the scoreboard despite their dominance. Manchester City had 28 successful final 3rd passes vs Chelsea’s 1 within the opening 30 minutes of the match.
Despite Manchester City’s dominance, an unlikely goal came from an unlikely source for Chelsea: Kante. Throughout the match, Kovacic played really well and unfortunately had to leave early in the 60th minute due to injury. He seems to have reoccurring muscle injuries which occurred last season in Madrid as well. Marcos Alonso would have been cursing the football gods after Kova’s departure, as he was his savior in finding a way out of Manchester City’s press. The Croatian, along with Hazard, is probably Chelsea’s most press-resistant player. He was a constant outlet down the left for Alonso and Kovacic somehow managed to get out of situations where he had three men surrounding him due to his close control and immense technique.
The match ended in favor of Chelsea, a 2-0 victory with David Luiz scoring the second goal. Despite all of City’s dominance, they failed to break through a tough and resilient Chelsea defense. Rudiger, Azpi, and David Luiz were all impressive. The xG following the match had 0.87 for Chelsea and 0.73 for City.
Passing: 88.9% PA from 18 passes
Key Passes: 0
Match Rating: 7 / 10
Achraf vs Schalke:
Achraf Hakimi once again started at left back for Borussia Dortmund in their local derby clash vs Schalke. The starting back four has been cemented for Lucien Farve: Piszczek, Zagadou, Diallo, and Achraf. Throughout the game, you notice how tight of a unit that back four has become over the course of the season. Many laud the attacking threat and speed at which Dortmund play, but their defensively solidity is what has made them such a great team this season. With the experience and support of Delaney and Witsel just in front of the backline, Dortmund have been so difficult to beat. Farve has his team just inches apart centrally and allows the opposition the freedom to attack from the wings. He trusts the speed of his fullbacks and wingers to shift over from their central positions to apply pressure in time.
Dortmund scored early, a brilliant free kick delivered into the box by Marco Reus was headed home by Miguel Delaney. That 1-0 lead was protected into half-time. Achraf had a few bone-crunching, yet clean, slide tackles that sent a message to Schalke: Dortmund were playing away from home and intended to win that derby.
Achraf, as always, was heavily involved in Dortmund’s build up and their overall attack. He had the most touches on the team (96) and completed 5 dribbles from the left back position—oftentimes cutting in with his right foot to break through pressure. Schalke had no answer for Hakimi and struggled to contain him, fouling him 4 times—again the most on the team.
The game would turn into an up and down affair and was intensely contested battle. Ultimately Dortmund would secure the three points with a 2-1 win, the second goal scored by the always impressive Jadon Sancho. The 18-year-old Englishman was unplayable at times and has continued to evolve into one of the hottest young prospects in world football, alongside Madrid’s Achraf Hakimi.
Passing: 85% PA from 57 passes
Touches: 96 (most on team)
Dribbles Completed: 5 (most on team)
Fouled: 4 (most on team)
Match Rating: 7.5 / 10