Man City has swiftly replaced Ilkay Gundogan following his departure to Barcelona, Mateo Kovacic Chelsea emerging as the midfield solution.
While Kovacic may not match Gundogan’s goal-scoring and assist contributions, his wealth of experience at the highest level, including successful Premier League campaigns and five Champions League triumphs, adds immense value to the team.
Kovacic’s arrival reinforces Manchester City’s ambition to compete at the highest level once again. Despite being 29 years old, Kovacic still has several prime years ahead, making the £25 million transfer fee a worthwhile investment.
With his adaptability and previous experience at top-tier clubs and on the international stage, Kovacic is expected to seamlessly integrate into City’s setup under manager Pep Guardiola’s guidance. While not a direct replica of Gundogan, Kovacic’s arrival fills the void left by the German midfielder’s departure, ensuring Manchester City maintains a formidable presence in the midfield.
Mateo Kovacic was born to Bosnian Croat parents on May 6 1994 in Linz Austria. Prior to joining Chelsea, Kovacic had an impressive journey through various top-tier clubs. After starting his football career with Linzer ASK, his exceptional skills caught the attention of several European powerhouses. At the age of just 12, he garnered interest from prominent clubs such as Bayern Munich, Juventus, Inter Milan, Ajax, and Stuttgart. However, Kovacic’s family decided to relocate to Zagreb, Croatia, where he joined Dinamo Zagreb’s esteemed youth system at the age of 13.
At Stamford Bridge, the Croat had a remarkable tenure, making 221 appearances and contributing to the club’s triumphs in the Champions League, Europa League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup.
He was also recognized individually, being named the Player of the Year by supporters in 2019-20 and receiving the Goal of the Season award for his stunning volley against Liverpool.
Initially joining on loan from Real Madrid, Kovacic’s strong performances led to a permanent move ahead of the 2019-20 season. He played a crucial role in Chelsea’s fourth-place finish in the Premier League, reaching the FA Cup final, and ultimately securing the Champions League title under Thomas Tuchel’s management. Kovacic’s international career also flourished during his time at Chelsea, earning 47 caps for Croatia out of his total 93.
How does Kovacic fit into Manchester City?
Kovacic’s game is characterized by exceptional ball retention and counter-pressing abilities. With an explosive first step and impressive dribbling skills, he can navigate his way out of tight situations. In the 2022-23 season, his carries per 90 into the final third averaged 2.1, down from 3.7 in his first season at Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri. He still ranked seventh among all midfielders in the Premier League for progressive carries, with an average of 2.0 per game.
However, there is a trade-off in the midfielder’s game. Over time, his aversion to risk off the ball has become more prominent than his ability on it. As the team approaches the penalty area, he tends to become more cautious in his positioning during build-up play and in the later phases of possession. Among central and defensive midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues who played a minimum of 500 minutes last season, he ranked in the 94th percentile for passes received per 90 (54.1) but only the 24th percentile for progressive passes received (0.7).
Additionally, his percentage of touches in the penalty area was relatively low, with only 0.16 out of his 54.1 touches per game occurring in that area (placing him in the 17th percentile). Despite this cautious approach, his ball retention skills and ability to receive passes remain strong aspects of his game.
Gundogan’s goal-scoring instincts and ability to receive the ball between the lines set him apart. Last season, he had a higher percentage of passes received in the penalty area per 90 (3.3%) and received 4.9 progressive passes per 90, ranking in the 99th and 97th percentiles respectively among central and defensive midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues (minimum 500 minutes).
For Kovacic to thrive and provide a viable solution in Gundogan’s absence, creating effective passing options in advanced positions is crucial. This is especially important for a possession-based team like City, known for denying transition opportunities and exploiting spaces behind the defensive line for players like De Bruyne and Haaland.
Defensively, City’s possession-oriented style can be relentless, so the ability to recover and maintain possession in the opponent’s half is crucial. While Kovacic may encounter challenges in translating possession into goal contributions, the fundamental need for ball possession remains essential to make meaningful progress on the field.
Considering his price tag, prime age, experience, and strong mentality, his acquisition represents a valuable package. With talented teammates and a coach capable of maximizing his potential, Kovacic’s move to Manchester City presents an intriguing opportunity from a Fantasy Premier League perspective. Playing in a team that dominates possession and boasts attacking talent, Kovacic is likely to have more involvement in the final third. As he settles into the team and develops chemistry with his new teammates, Pep Guardiola’s guidance could unlock his goal contributions, making him an attractive option for fantasy managers.
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