No goals, only two assists – how Madrid midfielder Kovacic has failed to break out at Chelsea
It has become an all-too-familiar sight to see Mateo Kovacic substituted at Chelsea but watching him come off after just 56 minutes of Sunday's clash with Wolves really hammered home just how dispensable the Croatian has become at Stamford Bridge.
Indeed, it will not come as a surprise to learn that the midfielder has completed just one Premier League match since arriving on a one-year loan from Real Madrid last August. Kovacic has gone from a guaranteed starter to fighting for a place in Maurizio Sarri's line-up with Ross Barkley.
His weekly withdrawal is almost becoming a joke among Chelsea fans, who have noted Maurizio Sarri's tendency to replace the same players in every game.
No other duo have been swapped more times this season at Chelsea: Barkley has come on for Kovacic 14 times this season, while Kovacic has come on for Barkley eight times!
Of course, the repeated switch is partly due to the Croat's match fitness issues, as he has suffered a number of niggling injuries this season.
However, there is also a tactial side to it. Sarri prefers Kovacic when his team aren't having much possession, against sides like Manchester City.
But in games where Chelsea dominate, Kovacic struggles to impose himself offensively. The visit of Wolves was simply the latest case in point.
Chelsea suffered from a dreadful lack of cutting edge and Kovacic was arguably the biggest culprit, which is why he was hauled off shortly after half-time.
Kovacic's creative issues are certainly becoming a major problem for Sarri, who is still searching for Chelsea's answere to Marek Hamsik, the Slovakian all-rounder who performed so impressively for the Italian during their time together at Napoli.
When it comes to analysing Chelsea's failings this season, particularly in the middle of the park, much of the focus falls on Jorginho and the re-positioning of N'Golo Kante.
However, Kovacic is just as culpable for the imbalance in the Blues' engine room.
Even Kante has scored four times this season; Kovacic hasn't netted once. The Frenchman (4) also has twice as many assists as the Croatia international (2).
Kovacic has immense experience for his age. He is still only 24 but has prevously played in Serie A and La Liga, while he has three Champions League winners' medals, and was a part of the Croatia side that finished as runners-up at last summer's World Cup.
Defensively, he has improved immeasurably, but perhaps at the expense of his offensive skills, which is perhaps why Sarri is also beginning to use Kovacic as Jorginho's back-up, putting him in a defensive midfield role where he is not required to produce too many attacking actions.
Kovacic arrived at the tail end of the summer transfer window as the Blues took advantage of the leverage earned from selling Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid for £35 million ($46.4m) to gain a player Los Blancos didn't initially want to release on a season-long deal.
At Inter, he had impressed sporadically but, in truth, nobody ever really worked out his best position. As a result, he was used in a variety of roles, even out wide or as a No.10.
However, in Madrid, due to Real's array of attacking talent, he developed into an effective defensive midfielder, a composed player who could be relied upon to fill in effectively for the likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos or Casemiro when required.
As a result, he was well respected and valued at the Santiago Bernabeu but, at 24, he was more than happy to move to Chelsea to try to emerge out of Modric's shadow and become the main man at a major club.
However, as Alvaro Morata showed before him, the move from Madrid's bench to Chelsea's first team isn't an easy one. The weight of expectation in west London is huge, while the pace and level of competition in the Premier Leagvue is higher than that of La Liga.
Sadly, Kovacic also looks to have lost that creative spark he had at Dinamo Zagreb and, to a lesser extent, Inter. He is clearly technically gifted; he has shown that at Chelsea but we are talking about a midfielder who has gone 103 games without a goal for club and country.
Ostensibly, FIFA's decision to reject Chelsea's appeal to delay their upcoming transfer ban is the reason why the club will not be in a position to sign Kovacic on a permanent deal this summer.
However, even if that ruling is overturned by CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport), it's still unlikely that the Blues will push through a deal.
Indeed, unless Kovacic rediscovers his old creative streak, it's difficult to see a reason why Sarri would want him in his side next season.