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‘Super-reliable’ Kovacic repaying Tuchel’s love in new model Chelsea | Jacob Steinberg

Midfielder has shone since change of manager but must prove against Atlético Madrid he can do it on the toughest nights

There were 15 minutes on the clock at Stamford Bridge when a lone player in black and white stripes decided it might be worth trying to break Mateo Kovacic’s spell in midfield. Joe Willock had the right idea, stepping into Chelsea’s half before making towards the player running the game. But Kovacic was one step ahead. He knew what was coming and Willock never got close to the Croatian, who danced round the Newcastle midfielder before lifting a beautiful ball over the top for Tammy Abraham to burst through on goal.

Newcastle were sliced apart and it needed a thunderous challenge from Jamaal Lascelles, whose intervention left Abraham unable to continue, to prevent a goal. But Kovacic was in the zone. He was in complete control, dominating with his tenacious tackling, crisp passing and driving runs.

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