Chelsea are facing a midfield crisis ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup final against Liverpool.
Blues boss Thomas Tuchel claimed it would take a “miracle” for Mateo Kovacic to recover in time from Dan James’ horror tackle that saw him hobble out of last night’s 3-0 win at Leeds.
The Croatia international left Elland Road with a severely swollen ankle after a challenge that Tuchel admitted he could not bring himself to watch again on video replays.
It leaves Chelsea’s manager desperately trying to come up with solutions ahead of Saturday’s Wembley showdown with Liverpool, with N’Golo Kante also facing a race to be fit.
The France midfielder has missed the last two games with a muscular issue and now has two days to prove his fitness.
Kovacic is being assessed by Chelsea’s medical team, but the player fears his cup final hopes are over. And Tuchel has also resigned himself to being without one of his key players after seeing the state of his ankle in the dressing room after last night’s match.
“I tell you not as a coach and not as an expert, but for me it is very unlikely he will play,” he said. “First of all, if Mateo goes out, he never goes out. He played in the semi-final of the FA Cup with the same injury and tried to play another 15 minutes, which was almost impossible.
“Now he went off (early). It was a swollen ankle and he is in a lot of pain. We need to wait for the examinations, but it is very unlikely he can play. It is absolutely bad news for us on a perfect evening.”
Tuchel added: “If he misses it, I’m very disappointed because he was a clear starter. He is a key figure for us in midfield. He played against Liverpool in the last two matches from the beginning and was very strong.
“He’s super, super hungry, determined and excited to play these matches and of course he is in fear he will miss it. We will see. We need to wait. Maybe we have a miracle and we make it possible.”
The reckless challenge from James after 24 minutes earned him an immediate red card. It was so bad that Tuchel revealed he could not watch it again.
“I did not see the challenge live,” he said. “I just saw it from a distance on the iPad. I am not good at looking at these situations because it hurts me physically to watch it, but everybody told me it is a clear red card.”
Chelsea moved a step closer to securing Champions League qualification with the win, with Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Romelu Lukaku all scoring.
Tuchel hopes it will provide a boost for Saturday.
“It was necessary to change things, how we play on the field,” he said. “We needed to step up, it’s as easy as that.
“There was nothing new that we did, but we did our stuff with a much higher level of focus and discipline than in the last matches. I felt the team very calm and determined before the match and they delivered a performance that we got so used to over many weeks.
“It was necessary, not only because of our situation, because it’s good to arrive to a match like on Saturday with a calm mind. This was the foundation for that, this performance.” — Standard.