Where does Mateo Kovacic fit in at Manchester City?

By ballprogression
5 Min Read

Mateo Kovacic was thought to be a bit of a surprise signing for Manchester City in the beginning but as things settled, a move made more and more sense. Following Chelsea’s exodus, Kovacic found himself in the last year of his contract and at the back door, with both parties looking for a way out. In the end, a 35m move materialised and Pep Guardiola got his man.

Guardiola is well aware of his qualities and I’m certain that he’s the one who can get the best out of him.

Mateo Kovacic made his debut for the Blues against Yokohama F. Marinos just a few days ago and the manager had this to say about his first game: “Really good. He is an exceptional player, we know it. It’s just the first game. He has to know us and what we want. But really, really good“.

Things so far

Kovacic has appeared in two friendly games so far at Manchester City and while it might be difficult to make an estimate of how well he has integrated due to such a small sample size, we can draw conclusions on where he’s likely to play and with who he’s likely to play with.

In both games, he stepped into the role previously held by Gundogan, occupying the position of the left midfielder in the double pivot, which is where Guardiola is most likely to deploy him.

Having watched his highlights in both of the games, you can tell he’s still playing with a “brake” as he mainly recycled the possession around without much involvement going forwards. He’s been more active on the defensive side of things though, pressing and intercepting the ball well. Some glimpses of his dribbling escapades early on but not much more. Of course, this is normal for a player who’s just come into the team and is still learning the ropes, especially as he’ll be playing a complex role in a Manchester City team which is full of tasks and rotations.

Here he is deployed in a double pivot with John Stones, offering an option for the defence before laying the ball off to a runner coming from deep.


Man City buildup with a 3-2 and he usually stayed as the deepest midfielder, with Stones and Lewis interchanging more often. If Lewis came deep, Stones pushed forward and vice versa, Kovacic stayed in behind.


As far as the defensive phase, Manchester City defended in a 4-4-2 with John Stones tucking into the backline and Rico Lewis coming deeper to form a double pivot with Mateo Kovacic.

Man City definitely gained a bit of running power with Kovacic’s arrival but lost out in the attacking phase of things as Gundogan understands the game on a higher level going forward. As far as being combative and forcing people into mistakes, not many midfielders have greater acceleration than Kovacic. All about utilising his strengths correctly.

In conclusion

Can Mateo Kovacic replace Ilkay Gundogan? Quite simply, no, but he’ll definitely offer more on the defensive side of things.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether Guardiola sees him being heavily involved going forwards or if will he “clean up” for others. There’s a whole side to Kovacic’s game going forward that no manager has managed to break out, he used to show it at Inter and at Chelsea in glimpses but is it too late into his career to start searching himself in front of goal again?

There’s a reason why Luka Modric recommended him to Real Madrid at the time. In my opinion, he could blossom under Pep Guardiola, provided he finds the right role for him. People seem to forget how stellar of a season he had not so long ago in 19/20 where he picked up the award for Chelsea’s Player of the Season. Mateo Kovacic at his absolute best is a press-resistant powerhouse with elite acceleration for a midfielder. Guardiola surely has a plan for him.

Embed from Getty Images

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