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Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic likely to miss first leg of Real Madrid tie

Nick Purewal, PA
·4-min read

Mateo Kovacic is likely to miss Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid.

The Croatia midfielder has missed the Blues’ last three matches after picking up a hamstring problem on the eve of the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Porto.

The 26-year-old has been ruled out of Saturday’s Premier League trip to West Ham, and boss Thomas Tuchel has admitted the former Real star will be hard-pressed to face his old club in Madrid on Tuesday night.

“I think Madrid could be very close, but obviously he has not trained with the team,” said Tuchel.

“When should this happen? Tomorrow is the (West Ham) game, then we have two more days to prepare for Real Madrid for the semi-final of the Champions League.”

Chelsea lost that quarter-final second leg 1-0 to Porto in Seville without the influential defensive midfielder Kovacic, but reached the last-four 2-1 on aggregate.

The Blues’ German boss Tuchel dedicated that semi-final progression to Kovacic, who had been a late withdrawal due to an injury in the last training session before the decisive Porto clash.

Kovacic helped Real Madrid to three Champions League titles in his time with the Spanish giants, and would doubtless have been itching to line up against his former club in Tuesday’s first leg.

Chelsea v Brighton and Hove Albion – Premier League – Stamford Bridge
Thomas Tuchel, pictured, hopes Mateo Kovacic will be back in action sooner rather than later despite a hamstring injury (Neil Hall/PA)

Tuchel still hopes to have Kovacic back in time for Chelsea’s Premier League clash with Fulham on May 1, which would then leave him available for the return leg with Real on Wednesday, May 5.

“Me personally, I think we can hope for Fulham, but don’t take it as medical advice,” said Tuchel.

“Maybe the physios and doctors will kill me for that. Hopefully Fulham is a realistic target.”

Chelsea’s trip to West Ham on Saturday is likely to prove pivotal in the race for a top-four Premier League finish.

The Blues leapfrogged the Hammers into fourth place courtesy of Tuesday’s Brighton stalemate, where Kepa Arrizabalaga kept his second straight clean sheet having featured in the 1-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City.

The Spain stopper has fallen behind Edouard Mendy in the Stamford Bridge pecking order this season, but continues to impress Tuchel with his training-ground application.

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Tuchel confirmed Mendy will return to start against West Ham, but hailed Kepa’s attitude and abilities at the same time.

“Mendy is in goal; the change was made for Kepa for the cup game,” said Tuchel.

“And even before the cup game, the goalkeeper coach and I decided that Kepa would stay in for one more game after City as a reward, and to keep the rhythm of playing every three days.

“It should be like a real reward and not just a reward him for the competition, because of how he is playing.

“And in the dressing room he is simply outstanding in terms of quality and personality and I’m very happy that he could show it on the pitch again.

Chelsea v Manchester City – FA Cup – Semi Final – Wembley Stadium
Thomas Tuchel, left, has praised Kepa Arrizabalaga, right, for his hard graft at Chelsea (Ian Walton/PA)

“He had two clean sheets in two difficult matches for us.

“So it is a very good feeling to know we can rely on two goalkeepers and they can produce clean sheets.

“They have earned our trust in the moment and the situation in general has not changed, Edou will be in goal tomorrow.”

Chelsea have also revealed plans to install rail seating at Stamford Bridge next season, while general admission season ticket prices have been frozen for the 2021/22 campaign.

“A further upgrade to Stamford Bridge that we are pleased to announce is the installation of rail seating in the Matthew Harding Lower and Shed End Upper and Lower tiers,” read a Chelsea statement.

“This change, which will be ready for the 2021/22 season subject to approval by the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) and its Safety Advisory Group (SAG), will enhance supporter safety by replacing the current seats in those sections of the stadium.

“The decision is the result of many months of consultation with the SGSA and Hammersmith and Fulham Council, as well as work with independent architects to find the optimum solution for Stamford Bridge.”