Thomas Tuchel is worried Mateo Kovacic may have sustained a “major injury” in the awful challenge from Dan James that reduced Leeds United to 10 men in Chelsea’s 3-0 win on Wednesday.
Needing three points to get back on track in their pursuit of Champions League qualification, Chelsea’s task was made easier at Elland Road by James’ first-half red card.
In similar fashion to Luke Ayling’s dismissal at Arsenal in Leeds’ previous game, James lunged in on Kovacic, getting the ball but then planting his studs in his opponent’s ankle.
That earned the 99th card of Leeds’ league season and was soon followed by a landmark 100th (Kalvin Phillips’ booking) – a Premier League first and evidence of the relegation battlers’ ill discipline.
Chelsea, already 1-0 up through Mason Mount, took advantage with goals from Christian Pulisic and Romelu Lukaku, although Tuchel surely would have preferred to play against 11 men and not lose Kovacic to injury days before the FA Cup final.
“If we did not have the major injury to Mateo Kovacic, it would have been close to a perfect evening,” Tuchel told BBC Sport. “It was a very strong performance from the start.
“We accepted all the obstacles we’d have to face – a physical team and an emotional stadium. We were strong from the beginning and deserved to win.
“We never dropped in concentration. We stayed very disciplined to avoid any chance of offensive transition. We did what we had to do at a very high level.”
2 – Leeds are only the eighth side in Premier League history to see a player red carded in the first half of back-to-back games, and first since Hull in September 2016. Dirty. pic.twitter.com/ssy8VXHtZ2
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 11, 2022
On Kovacic’s injury, the Chelsea coach added: “It looks swollen and painful. It’s the same ankle he had injured already. It doesn’t look good.”
Kovacic was involved in an exchange with Leeds supporters as he made his way off, with the strugglers’ home stadium again proving anything but a fortress.
Leeds have lost nine games and conceded 37 goals at Elland Road this season, both their second-worst home returns in top-flight seasons (10 defeats in 1946-47, 46 goals conceded in 1959-60).
It allowed Chelsea to complete their first top-flight double over Leeds since 1936-37.
“I’m gutted,” Jesse Marsch added. “We give up an early goal and go down a man again – deja vu from the Arsenal game – against a real big opponent.”