Treble winning giants Manchester City have secured their first signing this summer with the shrewd capture of Mateo Kovacic from Chelsea.
Agreeing a fee of £25m plus £5m in performance-related add-ons with the Blues, the Croatian is a great fit to fill the void left by the recently departed Ilkay Gundogan even if he’s by no means a like-for-like replacement.
Joining after his trophy-laden spell at Stamford Bridge that saw him win the Champions League, Europa League, UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup, the 29-year-old is excited about the move and the prospect of working under tactical genius Pep Guardiola.
“This is a brilliant move for me, and I cannot wait to get started with City. Anyone who has watched this team under Pep [Guardiola] knows how good they are – for me, they are the best in the world. The trophies they have won are clear for all to see, but they are also the best footballing side out there,” the man who also won three UCL titles and a Liga crown at Real Madrid gleamed.
“To be joining this squad really is a dream for any footballer. I still have plenty of learning and developing to do, and I know under Pep’s management I can become a better player.”
City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain was full of praise for the versatile and multifaceted midfielder, with him clearly delighted about his acquisition. “He can play as a six or an eight, has plenty of experience at top level clubs and he understands the Premier League. It was a very simple decision to bring him to City because he has the tactical and technical qualities we are looking for in a midfielder.
“He is someone we have monitored for a very long time and always we were impressed whenever we watched him. I am delighted he is here. This is a great signing for this club, and I am very excited to watch what he can do with Pep and the rest of our backroom team.”
So comfortable on the ball, press resistant and able to break the lines with his driving dribbles and incisive passing, it’s easy to see why Pep was keen on bringing a player of his mould in.
A brilliant progressor of the ball and always keen to take the chance to breathe life into attacks, the powerful dynamo’s cultured passing ensures he can feed teammates in many ways.
Quick to notice quality runs off the ball, colleagues between the lines, if the switch is on out wide or if possession needs to be recycled, he then accompanies this with his slick pass selection.
Whether it be ground or aerial through balls, sharp vertical and diagonal ground passes to break lines, concise crosses and cutbacks, neat interplay or switches of play, he can do it all. It also warrants mention how he unbalances defences with his eyes and body position before pinpointing his targets cunningly.
Able to speed up the tempo or slow things down, his capacity to manage matches and immense experience will be an invaluable asset as well.
Relishing every opportunity to carry the ball forward, his dribbling is a key component as well, as he loves surging upfield with gusto using his wicked burst of acceleration and nifty array of manoeuvres to outfox foes.
So strong on the ball, great at adjusting his receiving posture and able to withstand pressure, this, in combination with his tidy first touch and ball control, also helps him weave away from danger in close quarters, draw out opponents and outmuscle challengers 1v1.Positionally astute and capable of operating in many midfield roles due to his tactical awareness, work rate and athleticism, this should give Pep many options when deciding where to deploy him. Mobile and great at embarking on forward runs, it’s most likely he’ll be used in a box-to-box post to maximise his qualities, with Rodri providing expert coverage from holding midfield with the nearby defenders.
Having worked under a host of different managers such as Zinedine Zidane, Thomas Tuchel, Rafa Benitez, Roberto Mancini, Maurizio Sarri and Graham Potter within a plethora of schemes, this should mean he’ll have little worry adhering to the build-up and all-round demands Pep has in store for him.
Smart at finding space deep and wide, plus either side of opposition midfield lines, it’ll be intriguing to see how Guardiola will use the versatile Croatian once he hits the pitch.
Meanwhile, on the defensive end, his tenacity, intensity, aggression and ball winning powers elevate his worth, thus meaning he should seamlessly slot in, as his pressing and counterpressing prowess will be especially vital.
Reading the play sharply and alert to danger, his forceful yet intelligent approach has worked wonders for him in the past, with him frequently breaking up play with his vital interventions, physicality, stamina, harrying and positioning.
Always willing to jet back and support his backline to help deal with transitions, this part of his game will have further endeared him to City, who can be exposed at times on the counter due to their expansive approach.
Industrious, never afraid to get stuck in and so well versed in defensive principles in relation to pressing and organisation, his aptitude here will be a huge plus for City.
“We miss Kovacic when he doesn’t play,” Tuchel said when Kovacic was out through injury. “He is a big loss, with his ability to drive with the ball, his speed on the ball, without the ball. Kova is such a positive character and unique player – a fighter who you can always rely on in games.”
By the numbers, upon comparing him to Gundogan last season using Wyscout data, Kovacic admirably held the ascendancy in a host of metrics such as dribbles per 90, successful dribbling percentage, offensive duels p90, offensive duels won percentage, progressive runs p90, passes into the final third p90, passes into the penalty area p90, deep completions p90 and progressive passes p90.
Boasting tremendous high level experience for both club and country, and so many characteristics that Guardiola desires in a midfielder, City’s capture of Kovacic makes perfect sense on many levels.
Ready to impact from the off and still with many good years ahead of him, it’s hard to argue this isn’t a fine deal for City even if there’ll be some fine tuning for him to get fully up to speed with what Pep requires of him.
In the case of Kovacic, City will be absolutely delighted to have snapped him up, for not only does he bolster their midfield ideally following Gundogan’s departure, but his arrival also heavily weakens one of their fiercest rivals.
All in all, acquiring Kovacic is certainly a fantastic way to kick-off their summer transfer dealings.