Why Mateo Kovacic has made Chelsea a better team
Maurizio Sarri has brought the swagger back to Chelsea. The Italian's exciting style, relaxed touchline demeanour and positive attitude has helped put the Stamford Bridge club back in title contention.
Roman Abramovich did spend big in the summer. Kepa Arrizabalaga looks the real deal. Jorginho, too. However, their most important signing, without question, Mateo Kovacic. For far too long have Chelsea threw all their eggs in an Eden Hazard-shaped basket. He has been their sole creator. Now, he'll finally be getting some much-needed help from the middle of the park.
Kovacic, aged 24, was slowly introduced into the starting line-up. The deal did go through late in the transfer window. That's probably why he was eased into proceedings. With each passing week, Croatia's next midfield maestro is getting better. He's learning the system, he's building relationships with his new teammates. Their bond is growing, that much is evident.
Take a look at Chelsea's simply breathtaking goal against Liverpool. The passing, the movement, the creativity. It was marvellous. Kovacic at the heart of everything good. He orchestrated the chance, telling his more experienced teammates where to move, where to play the ball into, what to do. It was a mature moment from an ever-improving player. That leadership, from one so young, is a rare commodity in the modern-day game.
He's becoming everything that the Chelsea faithful expected from a certain Cesc Fabregas. Although it's early days in Kovacic's Blues career, he brings more to the table. The energy, the slickness, the mobility.
Sarri deserves the credit for this. Yes, we've only gotten a small sample size, but the way Kovacic makes everyone around him better is so important. Ask Manchester United fans whether Paul Pogba does the same for their team. I expect you'll get a completely different answer.
What I've been most impressed with is the movement and vision. The eye for a pass, the ability to execute it, the thought to move elsewhere into open space to receive the ball back. Again, I'll refer you to the Chelsea goal against Liverpool in the league encounter. That split-second decision-making is what makes Kovacic so good.
What is rare is to have that on-ball brilliance while also being able to carry the football forward with pace, agility and skill. He's a rare breed. Chelsea are lucky to have him, make no mistake about it.
It's not just his on-field performances as well. Fans resonate with certain footballers. Kovacic is just a likeable fellow who absolutely adores playing football. It's why he left arguably the biggest club in the world. All he wants to do is go out onto that field and show the world what he can do.
Not to put a dampener on things, Chelsea fans, it's just a shame Kovacic is only here on a loan deal. No doubt Real Madrid will welcome him back with open arms if he keeps up with these glittering performances. A certain countryman of his who dons the all-white Los Blancos kit is now 33, he'll need replacing soon...