Since arriving four-and-a-half years ago, Mateo Kovacic has been one of the most entertaining footballers to watch on a consistent basis at Stamford Bridge.
The 28-year-old initially signed for the club on a loan deal from Real Madrid but Chelsea ended up snapping the Croatian up on a permanent basis the following summer after impressing in west London. Kovacic was named as the Blues' player of the year in the 2019/20 season, the first campaign since signing a permanent deal, when playing under Frank Lampard.
The Croatia international was tipped by many at the time to be the future of Chelsea's midfield. Being younger than the likes of Jorginho and N'Golo Kante certainly helped that, but for a variety of reasons – injuries perhaps being the main one – it hasn't quite gone in that direction for Kovacic.
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The former Real Madrid midfielder, since signing a permanent contract in July 2019, has missed a total of 33 matches for Chelsea largely due to muscle injuries. It has massively halted his progress at the Blues but there's still a general feeling that he is one of the best in his position in the Premier League on his day.
Recently, with the arrival of Enzo Fernandez definitely helping him, he has been that. The 3-1 win against Leicester City earlier in the month highlighted all that was good about Kovacic's game. The Croatian put in some industrious work at the King Power Stadium when chasing the ball and was very neat and tidy while in possession. And of course, there was a time for a trademark Kovacic goal, too.
Now, though, with the 2023 summer transfer window not too far away, there are serious question marks over his future at Stamford Bridge. Kovacic has just over 12 months remaining on his contract with the club, with his deal due to expire in June 2024. Despite this, football.london understands there have been no official talks behind the scenes regarding the extension of the Croatian midfielder's contract.
Todd Boehly has made it clear that he wants to make decisions on players' contracts when there are two years or less left to run on those deals and Kovacic certainly falls into that category. If he was to stay at Chelsea beyond this summer and he doesn't sign an extension on his current deal, then the club risk losing him on a free transfer at the end of the 2023/24 season.
There is set to be activity at Stamford Bridge when it comes to the midfield. As football.london reported earlier this week, improving the midfield is at the very top of the club's agenda as we approach Boehly's third transfer window as Chelsea owner.
Where does this leave Kovacic?
Chelsea could end up signing multiple midfielders over the summer. Different profiles of midfielders are being looked at – with a ball-winning type of interest and more of a No.8, box-to-box player. Kovacic, while having the energy to be the latter, hasn't quite shown that sort of level in front of goal during his time at Chelsea unfortunately.
Alexis Mac Allister is someone who is being looked at, with the Argentine proving his ability in front of goal for Brighton this season; scoring seven goals in the Premier League. Meanwhile, the Blues remain interested in Declan Rice and Edson Alvarez, two players who belong in the ball-winning mould.
Even without signing anyone, there are question marks over whether Kovacic gets in a fully fit and firing Chelsea XI right now. N'Golo Kante was in the squad for the draw against Everton at the weekend and if all goes well – fingers crossed – then he could be ready, or extremely close to being, for the match against Aston Villa after the two-week international break.
A fully fit Kante is a really effective weapon for Graham Potter to have in his armoury. The Frenchman alongside Fernandez is a really exciting prospect.
The remaining stages of the season could be really significant for Kovacic in that regard. If Kante is now a mainstay in Potter's team, then it could spell bad news for the Croatian at Chelsea. Enzo will definitely be the first man on the teamsheet as long as he is available to play and if the Blues persist with the 3-4-2-1, which has a double pivot in midfield, then there might be no place for Kovacic.
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