The Magician's Assistant - Mateo Kovacic
The Brazilian maestro that is Philippe Coutinho has captivated the Liverpool faithful since his move from Inter Milan. He mesmerises fans and players alike with what he does with the ball, and it’s little wonder he’s nicknamed the magician.
Unfortunately though, for both the player and the fans, he currently lacks a magicians assistant, which is a key part of turning a successful magicians act into a mind blowing one. The assistant draws the audiences gaze which allows the magician to do what’s needed. That right there is what Liverpool lacked last season (along with a few other things, obviously). Someone who could draw the attention away from our number 10.
I mentioned a while back that I’d love Kevin De Bruyne to be that guy for Coutinho, but that’s not happening after the season he’s just had coupled with the fact Wolfsburg want big money. However if rumours are correct, the magicians assistant next season could be Mateo Kovacic of Inter Milan.
“Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”.
If this transfer happens then Inter Milan should be ashamed that they’d have sold potentially two world class playmakers for £23million combined. Two potentially elite midfielders for less than Adam Lallana, if you want even more context.
Inter, in the season just gone, looked to build play playing a possession based game with emphasis on winning and controlling the midfield in a 4312 formation. They field players who are comfortable as central midfielders, with Hernanes, who starts a little more advanced as the 1 in front of the 3, dropping back deeper when needed to give extra numbers in midfield. Gary Medel controls the area in front of the defence, and although he is good on the ball he looks to pass to Kovacic or Hernanes to start the attacks for Inter.
Inter Milan want a physical challenge, a compact game, and look to baffle and defeat teams in midfield (the complete opposite to Liverpool). Mateo does a job defensively, and despite being small in frame he is combative in the tackle. You might not think it, but he’d add some grit into our midfield.
Mateo is extremely talented with the ball at his feet and carries with the ball forward with probing dribbles. He reminds me very much of Phil Coutinho and Andres Iniesta; small in stature yet able to hold onto the ball even when opponents are putting in heavy tackles.
He has a quick shift of speed which helps when dribbling out of danger, but it is also an attribute when closing down and pressing opponents. His main strength though is his passing ability. He would be the main hub for many teams with the range of passing he possesses.
His pass success rate averages 87%, and these aren’t just simple passes. This high pass success percentage means he’d adapt into the Liverpool style of play with relative ease as he wouldn’t waste the ball. He would add a calmness to the midfield that we’ve lacked this season, especially at times when teams are overrunning the midfield and pressing us. He would be key in a team that likes to counter, his passes in attacking transitions would be devastating.
He isn’t afraid to shoot from distance, which would be a great addition considering 49% of Liverpool’s shots last season were from outside the area. If Liverpool are to play this way again next season, it’s better to have players who have this in their repertoire.
Kovacic isn’t a great goalscorer but he has scored 4 this season, and averages 2 key passes per game (be wary that he did only start 26 games). He has two assists, one of which came in the game against Lazio. Inter were helped by Lazio having two men sent off, but Mateo did superbly along with Jesus, keeping the dangerous Candreva in check during the game. He had 99 touches, the second highest in the game, and made an impressive 87 passes. I will reiterate, it was against a 9 man Lazio side, but shows how comfortable he is on the ball, and he stepped up in this big game.
Lack of output in terms of numbers could be a problem, as he’s eerily similar to Coutinho in terms of how he effects the games but doesn’t have the numbers to back it up. This becomes a problem for some fans who judge a players on these stats alone.
Would he fit in?
I’ve been scratching my head at this rumour. I’d love the Croat at Liverpool but how would he fit in? Liverpool currently have Emre Can, Joe Allen, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Lucas, and Phil Coutinho who can all play as centre midfielders.
Like many of our players, Mateo is versatile. He can play as the deepest of a three, on the side of a diamond and even as a number 10. Inter have used him as a wide left this season but I’m not sure he’d suit that. However, if Liverpool were to play 3421 again then Kovacic and Coutinho as the 2 behind the striker would something to look forward to.
Jordan Henderson is a guaranteed starter with him being captain, and it’s rumoured James Milner signed on the condition he’s a starter so that’s two midfield roles out of the way. This leaves one more space if Liverpool were to play 3 in midfield. I know Liverpool want depth in the squad and an impressive bench, but there would genuinely be games in which Coutinho, Kovacic, and Emre Can all start on the bench, and that should be illegal.
He is good enough technically to suit the formations Liverpool have played this season. Whether it be the 343, 4231, or 442 diamond, he’d fit. Liverpool like playing possession football but, as 2013/2014 showed, they’re a lot more devastating when they counter teams, and I genuinely think Kovacic would improve the side in both of these instances.
(LOOK AT THEM. THEY COMPLETE ONE ANOTHER)
At times people have compared Kovacic to Xavi, and with Coutinho being likened to Iniesta, it’d mean Liverpool have their very own lite version of the two legends. Both Xavi and Iniesta were great on their own but together, well it was special. Imagine the chaos our magician and his assistant would, and could cause in the Premier League. Just find our own Busquets and we’d have a potent midfield loaded to provide Sturridge and co. with the ammunition needed to fire Liverpool into the top 4.