Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said Mateo Kovacic’s absence, and the team’s lack of rest, had an impact on his team in the 1-1 Champions League semi-final first-leg draw with Real Madrid on Tuesday.
The Blues’ midfield duo; Jorginho and N’Golo Kante — or trio, including Mason Mount who often dropped deeper — did very well to limit the impact that the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos could have had in the game.
Kante, in particular, earned the man of the match award for his outstanding box-to-box performance, having completed more dribbles (six) than anyone else on the pitch.
Despite Karim Benzema’s equaliser, the Blues were clearly the better side in the first half. They had seven shot attempts, compared to Real Madrid’s three in that period.
Unfortunately, Chelsea could not really maintain the intensity in the second half, and according to Tuchel, it could have been different had Kovacic been available.
“It’s a pity that we [didn’t] have Kova,” Tuchel told Chelsea TV after the game.
“Because Kova is more or less the same type of player [as Kante]; driving with the ball and could have been very important.
“You [saw] that Jorginho was very, very tired and a bit overloaded.
“You [could] feel it in the decision-making, in some easy ball losses.
“I blame nobody, because I felt from the mental and physical point of views.
“Coming from a crucial game [against] West Ham, second day after the game you had to travel and everything. You arrived here [in Madrid] and the next pressure was on.
“We could have used one more day [of rest] to be a bit more clinical.”
It was not really a surprise that Jorginho looked tired. It was his seven consecutive start since the first-leg win over Porto earlier this month.
In that period, Chelsea had a few highly intensive games against the likes of Manchester City and West Ham, and Tuchel did not really have many options with Kovacic out due to a hamstring injury.
It is slightly puzzling that Tuchel has not used Billy Gilmour, instead of forcing Jorginho to play twice a week, but recent results suggest the manager has got it right.
On a positive note, speaking on Monday, Tuchel was hopeful that Kovacic could return for the weekend’s derby against Fulham and at least the second leg against Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge next week.