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Chelsea have an easy decision to make as Mateo Kovacic repeats antics

Chelsea have an easy decision to make in the midfield department after Mateo Kovacic shone again in Tuesday’s 2-1 win at RB Salzburg. Graham Potter’s team advanced to the Champions League round of 16 as winners of Group E with their third consecutive win in the competition.

Kovacic made headlines when Chelsea drew 1-1 against Manchester United at the weekend. Potter brought on the 28-year-old and switched from a 3-4-3 to a 4-4-2 after just 36 minutes after United controlled the opening stages at Stamford Bridge, changing the course of the game.

And he made the difference again in a tight clash in Austria, opening the scoring with a sumptuous shot from distance in the first half. Aside from his goal, Kovacic boasted a 100 per cent record in duels from the ground, long balls and dribbles completed and maintained a passing accuracy of 86 per cent before the break.

He was a standout player on the pitch before giving way to Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 68th minute. And with uncertainty growing over the future of captain Jorginho and N’Golo Kante, the next steps Chelsea need to take with Kovacic could not be more clear.

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The Blues are understood to be handling Kovacic’s workload carefully after he missed a month earlier in the season due to injury. But when he is given the chance to play, it doesn’t take long for him to turn heads, and he is emerging as a potential Potter midfield stalwart for years to come.

The Croatian international’s contract expires at the end of next season and Chelsea are reportedly planning to open talks to extend his stay after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He is open to negotiating a new deal, now based in west London after marrying his longtime partner and becoming a father for the first time.

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Elsewhere within Potter’s midfield ranks, Kante, 31, and Jorginho, also 31 in December, are out of contract at the end of the current campaign. With Conor Gallagher already vying for a starting job and Chelsea’s continuing links with a high-profile midfielder, Potter wouldn’t be out of place to let them both go and start a new era with Kovacic as the face of the regiment.

Jorginho has flirted with the prospect of a new challenge, while Kante is out injured until February in the latest setback to an injury-plagued period in his career. Kovacic is proving his worth and passing his Potter audition with flying colors ahead of a fascinating pair of transfer windows.

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