Mateo Kovacic played 63 minutes in Chelsea’s 2 - 1 win over Newcastle at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening.
Kovacic, who typically starts as the left central midfielder (although does come off the bench every now and then, mostly due to rotations, behind Ross Barkley) in Sarri’s scheme, was deployed as the LCM alongside N’golo Kante and Jorgino — Chelsea’s go-to midfield trio.
Chelsea have struggled creating offensively this season. Outside of Eden Hazard, they haven’t gotten consistent production from anyone else. Pedro has come in-and-out of the lineup and has looked efficient at times, and Callum Hudson-Odoi is a really exciting up-and-coming youngster who can create danger — but that only leaves a wildly inconsistent Willian, and a midfield line that acts better controlling the tempo, rather than breaking defensive lines.
To fully make use of Jorginho’s passing ability, you need zipping runs into the half-spaces and behind defensive lines. That hasn’t occurred as much as Chelsea fans would like. Tonight, against a classic Rafa Benitez defensive set up, Sarri’s men didn’t create many chances — two in total in the first half. Kovacic wasn’t involved much, and though Chelsea had a lot of the ball early on, the Croatian wasn’t as influential as he should’ve been. Sporadically, he’d make a run ahead of the ball-carrier, like this:
But Kovacic was also a bit passive in this game. Maybe that’s a by-product of Sarri’s scheme. The entire team doesn’t play as vertical or direct as they should, which has contributed to their labouring offense.
There was a strange sequence in the second half, where Kovacic had an entire open field in front of him, and rather than blazing the pitch like the elite ball-carrier he was at Real Madrid, he opted to pass it sideways to Jorginho, completely decelerating the attack:
Chelsea found a way through, to be sure, with two fantastic goals. The first goal came through a David Luiz long-ball, met by the perfect control and finish from Pedro:
PEDRO! It's a perfect start for Chelsea fans! pic.twitter.com/WcXn65iIaw— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) January 12, 2019
After Claran Clark equalized for Newcastle through a terrific set-piece header; Chelsea reclaimed the lead in the second half, with Hazard and Willian breaking lines with individual talent:
Brilliant from Willian!— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 12, 2019
He curls the ball into the far corner to give Chelsea the lead! pic.twitter.com/vojuXBb7tU
Kovacic played 63 minutes (he was taken off for Ross Barkley, in what is a routine sub for Sarri). In his time on the pitch, he had just 46 touches and completed 87.5 of his 32 passes. He didn’t do much outside of that.