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Manchester City have agreed a deal with Chelsea for Mateo Kovacic with the Croatian midfielder set to join the treble winners for £30m. The transfer makes sense for both parties, with Manchester City needing midfield reinforcements and Chelsea needing to balance their books and shave players from their bloated squad.
Kovacic has been a big player for Chelsea for five years since making the move from Real Madrid in 2018 and has picked up several trophies for the club. His biggest success for the Blues came in 2021 when he was part of the squad that toppled Manchester City in the Champions League final in Porto.
To come into the Manchester City squad at this point in time, just after they have become treble winners is a daunting task but one that won’t phase the Croatian given the success he has enjoyed throughout his career. He has the personality and ability to play for Pep Guardiola but where exactly will he play for his new club? Let’s take a look at the options.
Kovacic to take Gundogan’s role
For club and country, Kovacic excels in the number 8 role. This is effectively the bridge between the holding midfielder and the more advanced attacking players. To play this role you generally need to be comfortable taking the ball in tight spaces, good at playing through the lines and efficient at carrying the ball forward. Kovacic ticks all of those boxes.
At Manchester City, Ilkay Gundogan currently has that position locked down. He offers support to Rodri in defensive work, while also getting up and alongside Kevin de Bruyne in attacking phases. With the introduction of John Stones as a defender/midfielder hybrid, Gundogan was perhaps given more freedom to go forward to the end of last season and this is something Kovacic would also be comfortable doing.
With Gundogan’s contract expiring next week, the likelihood is that he will be leaving Manchester City this summer. If this does happen, then Guardiola has a ready-made replacement already sorted. If Gundogan does end up staying, however, then Kovacic will likely rotate with the German over the course of the season.
Kovacic to provide cover for Rodri
Given how Guardiola’s mind works, it is entirely possible that he has something completely new planned for his new signing. One option could be to use him as cover for Rodri as a defensive midfielder, a position he played at times for Chelsea and in previous stages of his career.
For Croatia, Kovacic is more known for his defensive work out of possession to allow Luka Modric to pull the strings in midfield with freedom. Given the talented players within Manchester City’s squad, this defensive work could be crucial and allow them even more time to work their magic.
Although Rodri is currently a mainstay in the City team, rotating him with Kovacic could allow him to stay fresher as the season progresses. Alternatively, Guardiola may consider a formation change and pair the two of them together as defensive midfielders, moving John Stones back into defence.
Kovacic to play more advanced
One final possibility for Kovacic in a Manchester City shirt is to play a more advanced role. Although he isn’t exactly known for his goalscoring exploits or for providing assists, his dribbling ability and eye for a pass could translate well in and around the penalty box.
He has shown on occasion his terrific ball-striking ability which could have piqued Guardiola’s interest in playing him further up the pitch. With Kevin de Bruyne likely to miss the start of next season with a torn hamstring, Kovacic may well end up starting his Manchester City career as a number ten.
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