Manchester City signed Mateo Kovačić from Chelsea for 25 million pounds in a four-year deal last month. The 29-year-old Croatian midfielder, who had played for Real Madrid prior to joining Chelsea, is probably going to replace İlkay Gündoğan. The German left for Barcelona a few weeks back. Kovačić might deny it, but that seems to be the narrative as of now.
Kovačić won the UEFA Champions League for both Real Madrid and Chelsea, and will probably win more trophies with Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering team. However, his utility for the club remains to be proved.
Kovačić is not a goal scorer like Gündoğan
One can surely say that Kovačić’s signing to replace Gündoğan is not a like-for-like replacement. The Croatian midfielder has scored a combined total of nine goals for Real and Chelsea in 330 matches for them. This surely indicates that the Croat is anything but a goal-scoring midfielder; his ability to score with scorching shots at times notwithstanding.
This is in stark contrast with Gündoğan, who had made it almost a habit of scoring important goals for Manchester City. The German midfielder scored 60 goals in over 300 appearances for City, which asserts that he is far more comfortable scoring goals as a midfielder.
Gündoğan’s marauding runs into the opposition penalty box and his habit of getting into goal-scoring positions is something that Kovačić usually does not do. The Croat is more comfortable providing steel to his team and playing short passes in the middle third. Hence, it is anything but a like-for-like replacement.
One can hope that Kovačić does not go the Kalvin Phillips way
Manchester City predominantly played with a 3-2-4-1 formation last season, with John Stones partnering Rodri as a defensive midfielder. This means that they need more creative players upfront and can really do without any more defensive-midfielders in their line-up.
That makes Kovačić’s position in the playing eleven sort of redundant. Instead of having Kovačić in the eleven, Guardiola will be better advised to play someone like Julián Álvarez alongside Kevin de Bruyne and just behind Erling Haaland. This is to increase the team’s potency in attack.
Kovačić’s chance of getting into the team on a regular basis will improve if Stones has a mediocre start to the season. However, at the moment, Guardiola will much prefer to start Stones, who can switch into the right-back role in City’s hybrid formation with ease. Hence, it can be concluded that Kovačić will have to directly contend with Álvarez for a place in the playing 11.
Still, Álvarez has been a proven performer and a better offensive player in all respects. In this context, one tends to wonder if Kovačić goes the Kalvin Phillips way. Phillips had a good Euro 2020 and was signed by Manchester City thereafter.
However, he only appeared in 21 matches last season for them – most of them as a substitute. Guardiola might not think twice before benching Kovačić if he does not provide anything beneficial to the team as a player. It remains to be seen whether the Croat is able to make his mark at the Etihad.