Chelsea have been dealt a major injury blow ahead of their FA Cup final clash with Liverpool after Mateo Kovacic was forced off in the first half of the Blues’ Premier League game at Leeds. Kovacic was the victim of a horror tackle by Whites winger Dan James, who was sent off for the challenge in the 24th minute.
Thomas Tuchel would have been hoping for an injury-free visit to Leeds on Wednesday, with Chelsea facing a much bigger game against Liverpool on Saturday. However, former Manchester United forward James steamed into Kovacic midway through the first half.
The Croatian received the ball in the centre of the pitch and attempted to lay off a pass, only for James to slide in with a forceful tackle. The Welshman’s attempt to win the ball was so strong that Kovacic’s ankle appeared to jar.
James did win the ball but he landed high on Kovacic’s ankle. Referee Anthony Taylor was quick to produce a red card and VAR did not overturn the decision. Leeds head coach Jesse Marsch was fuming and argued with fourth official Kevin Friend.
Kovacic received treatment on the Elland Road pitch and was soon taken off, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek taking his place. Tuchel seemed concerned as the midfielder hobbled off.
And the Chelsea boss would be right to be worried as Kovacic could be a big miss ahead of the FA Cup final. The Blues are already underdogs against an in-form Liverpool and need their best players to be fit.
The 28-year-old has been a key player under Tuchel, making 42 appearances across all competitions this season. He has only recently come back from an ankle injury.
Kovacic missed the defeat by Arsenal, the win over West Ham and the draw with Manchester United with an ankle issue. He also missed a large chunk of the pre-Christmas period with an adductor issue and then Coronavirus.
Chelsea reached the final thanks to a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. Kovacic was substituted early in that game too, with Loftus-Cheek coming on to score the opener against his former club.
Against Leeds, Tuchel’s side led 1-0 in the fourth minute through Mason Mount’s wonderful goal. The midfielder ran on to Reece James’ cut-back and curled an effort past Illan Meslier.
Romelu Lukaku, who is hoping to start the FA Cup showdown ahead of Kai Havertz, had a goal disallowed for offside after Leeds were reduced to 10 men.