Maurizio Sarri would never have signed Mateo Kovacic this summer had he done his homework on Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley, according to Martin Keown.
The Croatia international joined on a season-long loan from Real Madrid and has already emerged as a key component of a Chelsea side which remains undefeated this season.
Kovacic’s arrival appeared to hinder the first team prospects of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley but, after slow stats under Sarri, the England internationals are quickly proving their worth.
‘I honestly believe that had Maurizio Sarri known just how good Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were, Chelsea would not have taken Mateo Kovacic on loan,’ Keown told the Daily Mail. ‘It’s nice problem for Sarri to have. You cannot drop N’Golo Kante so there are three players fighting for one midfield berth.
‘If Chelsea had to make a choice between Kovacic and Loftus-Cheek, I would rather send Kovacic back to Real Madrid than send Loftus-Creek out on loan.
’ Barkley suffered a serious hamstring injury last season and made just four appearances under Antonio Conte following his January move from Everton.
The 24-year-old has flourished under Sarri, however, scoring three goals in his last three games, including the priceless equaliser in the recent 2-2 draw with Manchester United, and Keown is full of admiration for the way in which he has rebuilt his career.
‘Barkley is one of the best players we have produced in terms of technical ability,’ he added. ‘I will never forget the first time I saw him play.
He was on loan at Sheffield Wednesday and I spent the whole match trying to work out if he was right or left-footed. ‘He took one corner with his right, then later in the game took one from the other side of the pitch with his left. ‘But talent can only get you so far.
Now, the penny has dropped for him. He knows how to get the best from that talent. He knows where he needs to be on the pitch to maximise his ability. ‘Maurizio Sarri is getting the best from him by playing him in an advanced midfield role. It suits all of his qualities and gets him into the final third often so he can work his magic.’