‘Exactly what Carlo Ancelotti does not want to see’: Pat Nevin says £40m Chelsea player could be vital tonight

Pat Nevin noted down how crucial Mateo Kovacic might be in helping Chelsea stage a historical Champions League comeback against Real Madrid this evening.

Writing for the club website, Nevin predicted – and pretty much prayed – that the Croatian international would be a starter at the Bernabeu later today.

Kovacic is set to return to the stadium he left permanently in 2019 for £40m (BBC) tonight, attempting to overthrow his former employers on the grandest footballing stage.

Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

The task that awaits the midfielder and all his fellow Chelsea comrades is giant, to say the least.

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Thomas Tuchel’s team trail Madrid 3-1 from the first leg, where they put on an unusually unconvincing European performance at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday.

Karim Benzema’s hattrick ensured the La Liga leader’s made a jolly journey home ahead of the second leg in Spain.

Without Kai Havertz’s header, the reigning holders of the competition would probably be down and out already.

But stranger things have certainly happened in the sport and greater deficits have been overturned.

Champagne super-Kova

Although the score line is not currently on their side, Chelsea do have a few things going for them entering into the contest.

Their 6-0 smashing of Southampton last Saturday should provide a platform of confidence to build upon.

Several players who stood out that afternoon – Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount to name a few – will be pumped and ready for action.

Plus, Tuchel has a man who knows Madrid’s dressing room better than anybody within his own squad.     

“Whoever gets the nod, and boy didn’t the boy Mount do incredibly well at the weekend too, I anticipate Mateo Kovacic will be in the starting line-up,” said Nevin.

“He pipped everyone for my man of the match against the Saints at the weekend, in the second half particularly. His energy levels as well as his skill are exactly what Carlo Ancelotti does not want to see his side have to cope with.

“Yes there may be a bit of a difference between what you face at St Mary’s on a Southampton off day at the end of the season in the league and the Bernabeu with Real determined to get back what they consider is their trophy.

“Even so, Kova looked imperious and a similar performance will upset the locals on and off the field, particularly with his history at their club.

Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

“It is the sort of challenge he relishes and although this is an unusual task for the Blues, I think everyone else will be precisely the same.”

Chelsea’s key to unlocking Real Madrid

Despite playing 90 minutes by the South coast only a few days ago, Tuchel would be wise to throw Kovacic into the firing line once again.

When fit and available, he has been one of Chelsea’s best performers this campaign.

He didn’t start the first leg and the outcome was telling.

By the time the 27-year-old stepped onto the pitch, the Blues were trailing 2-1.

Tuchel will surely not make the same mistake twice.

Mateo, please rip Madrid to shreds for us.

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Nathaniel is a football journalist who graduated from the University of Derby. He has worked at Burton Albion as part of their media team for two years. Nathaniel produces regular articles for the club’s official website and match-day programme. He covered the 2018 U20 Women’s World Cup in Brittany and has reported from grounds ranging from non-league up to the Premier League.