Chelsea midfield and forward ratings: Goal caps Mateo Kovacic’s night

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VALENCIA, SPAIN – NOVEMBER 27: Mateo Kovacic of Chelsea celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the UEFA Champions League group H match between Valencia CF and Chelsea FC at Estadio Mestalla on November 27, 2019 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Chelsea and Valencia traded halves, with the Blues dominating the first and Valencia taking the second. Here are our reviews of the Blues’ midfielders and forwards.

For whatever reason, Frank Lampard decided to bench Mason Mount for the second highly important match of the week. Mount’s impact on Chelsea and the game when he came on shows just how serious Lampard’s reasons must be. The instant improvement he provides means it cannot be a casual, toss-up decision.

N’Golo Kante, Midfielder: 6.5

Chelsea needed several players to do cover the various jobs Mason Mount does himself. Cesar Azpilicueta made up for some of his pressing, but that did not do Mateo Kovacic or the centre backs any favours. But N’Golo Kante made some of the runs between the lines that Mount makes, giving Chelsea a bit more shape and space to their offence than they had against Manchester City.

Kante also explored the wide areas of the pitch in the first half, playing outside of Reece James on the right. This set up the unusual situation of James playing more inside and Willian staying central in the “No. 10” positions, with Kante as the width on the right. Of course, not much stays unusual for long with Kante as he makes himself at home everywhere on the pitch. His forward runs into the box looking for throughballs, headers or seams in the defence are pretty normal now.

Jorginho, Midfielder: 4

Jorginho got off the mark early at Valencia, getting his obligatory yellow card in the sixth minute. A few minutes later, he notched another stolen assist to Christian Pulisic.

If you’re not familiar with stolen assists, that’s what the regista twitterati and YouTube empresarios call a floated dink pass over the top that really isn’t anywhere near the forward running towards it but everyone says “Oh, if only he had gotten to it what a chance that would have been!” instead of saying “Oh, if only that pass had actually gone to the forward instead of just being chipped hopefully over the top.”

As detailed in the defender player ratings, Vice Captain Jorginho gave Andreas Christensen one of the worst pieces of direction ever issued on a football field.

Jorginho was about 10 yards from a Valencia player bringing the ball down the wing. Christensen, the centreback, was in his centreback position about 25-30 yards away. Rather than closing down the Valencia player himself (he was not covering any passes to the centre of the pitch), Jorginho tried to get Christensen to come off his line to go 1v1 against the Valencia player.

Perhaps in Jorginho’s defence he recognized that he was not the man to go 1v1 with anyone faster than Michael Oliver. And since the play passed Jorginho by as this happened, we know the opponent was. But if Christensen had lost the 1v1 – and tackling is not Christensen’s strong suit – it would have been a clear run towards goal for the Valencia man, unless, of course, Kurt Zouma went equally far out of position to cover.

Not long after came Jorginho’s coup de grace. Already on a yellow card, Jorginho went for a sliding tackle from behind in the penalty box.

Was it 50/50? Generously. But when you’re (a) on a yellow card, (b) in the box and (c) have a referee who is calling every easy foul in favour of your opponents, 50/50 is entirely too much risk. Even more than the square pass to backheel to tackle on the edge of the box against Manchester City on the weekend.

Soon after, Frank Lampard replaced Jorginho with Chelsea up 2-1 in the 72′. Against City, Lampard replaced Jorginho down 2-1 in the 74′. Apparently Lampard is recognizing that the best way to achieve your desired result – whether that involves protecting or chasing a lead – is to remove Jorginho. Looking forward to him making the next leap of logic.

Mateo Kovacic, Midfielder: 7

Mateo Kovacic did not have the best start to the game, as Cesar Azpilicueta’s involvement on the press left Kovacic exposed to frequent attacks and overloads. There’s a reason why Kovacic does not play at the base of a midfield, even when the only other non-Kante alternative is Jorginho.

Once Chelsea rearranged their press to keep Azpilicueta deep and Kovacic relieved of defensive duties he resume his usual form, until the most unusual thing happened. Kovacic scored his first goal for Chelsea to level the game. That inspired him to search for more, and he nearly scored his second in the second half. Kovacic ended the game with a team-high four shots with two on goal, to go with the more normal five dribbles.

Chelsea should not be looking to any of these three midfielders for regular goal output by any means.

But the Blues need a midfield that is good for a goal every now again (and centre backs who do the same, for that matter), and that starts with the willingness to take more shots. Only shots score goals, and at the very least if the midfielders build a reputation for occasional shots on target the opponents will have to come out to defend, perhaps opening space for one of the forwards to collect a rebound or throughball.

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