When teams attempt to pin Chelsea back by putting pressure on their midfielders, Kovacic plays a crucial role. As well playing vertical passes from the deep positions he assumes, he also looks to dribble past opponents to help his side progress forwards. Over the course of 2019/20 – Lampard’s first season as Chelsea’s manager and when the Croatian turned 26 – Kovacic completed more successful dribbles per Premier League game than any other teammate and more than any other central midfielder in the entire division. In the same way as Mousa Dembélé at Tottenham and David Silva at Manchester City, Kovacic can give his team a potentially crucial numerical advantage in a central position by dribbling past an opposing midfielder.
He holds his position exceptionally well and is extremely reliable in that regard by helping make Chelsea difficult to break down in central areas. He is also combative, and will consistently make tackles. He never, however, plays as Chelsea’s deepest central midfielder, and could contribute more in attack given Jorginho provides security behind him. As it is, Kovacic rarely makes it into the opposition’s penalty area.
A technically gifted, tenacious and tactically astute box-to-box midfielder, Kovacic is reliable rather than spectacular, but he has nonetheless become a key member of Chelsea’s improving squad. There is good reason that two different Chelsea managers have considered him so valuable.