Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic tested positive for coronavirus just a day after returning from training, manager Thomas Tuchel announced on Tuesday. The 27-year-old has been out of action since the end of October and Tuchel was hoping to get him back into action this week. N’Golo Kante remains on the sidelines with a knee problem, while Jorginho has been forced to play through the pain of a back problem and will now miss Wednesday’s Champions League trip to Zenit Saint Petersburg, leaving Tuchel short of defensive midfielders.
“We have bad news because Mateo trained yesterday and with a big smile and it was a pure pleasure to have him back,” said Tuchel. “But he tested positive for coronavirus today, so he’s been in quarantine for a few days. So it’s a big setback for him personally and for all of us.”
The defending champions have already qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League and will be confirmed as winners of Group H if they equalize or improve Juventus’ result against Malmö this week.
Securing the top spot could offer an easier knockout, but Tuchel will balance those interests with the need to keep his players fresh for Saturday’s Premier League clash with Leeds at Stamford Bridge.
Tuchel, who also lacks defenders Trevoh Chalobah and Ben Chilwell, has admitted the midfield injuries have taken a hefty toll, with Chelsea knocking out the top of the Premier League at the weekend following the defeat to West Ham.
“The match tomorrow in isolation is not the problem in terms of congestion, it is more the match that emerges on Saturday,” said the German manager.
“We will lose time to sleep, we will return early on Thursday morning,” he added.
“And on Saturday we will meet a very intense team from Leeds, who have been preparing for this game all week.
“So long story, short message – there’s a big chance we’ll let some players rest and maybe more importantly we’ll give some players the load the load needs, the minutes and rhythm, to put it another way.”
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