Thomas Tuchel praises Billy Gilmour but admits he ‘can’t wait’ for ‘unique’ Mateo Kovacic to return

Mateo Kovacic looks on during Chelsea's FA Cup clash with Sheffield United
Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic has been out for a month with a thigh injury (Picture: Getty)

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has been impressed with Billy Gilmour’s recent performances deputising for the injured Mateo Kovacic but admits he ‘can’t wait’ for the Croatian to return to action again.

Kovacic, 27, has been sidelined with a thigh problem for over a month and has missed Chelsea’s last eight matches in all competitions as a result, including both legs of their Champions League semi-final victory over Real Madrid.

There had been some speculation Kovacic could have a role to play tomorrow evening when Chelsea entertain Arsenal at Stamford Bridge but his return date continues to be pushed back and the derby comes too soon for the midfielder.

It means 19-year-old academy product Gilmour could continue his run in the side versus the Gunners after a pair of accomplished displays in the Blues’ wins over Fulham and Manchester City.

Manchester City v Chelsea - Premier League
Gilmour shone in Chelsea’s win over leaders City (Picture: Getty)

Tuchel is hopeful Kovacic could be in contention again for the club’s FA Cup final showdown with Leicester this weekend.

Asked for an update on Kovacic’s fitness at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, Tuchel said: ‘He’s not ready for tomorrow [Arsenal], we have to postpone it to Wembley.

‘His personal race is to make it to the squad for Wembley.’

Thomas Tuchel talks to the media at his pre-match press conference
Chelsea play host to bitter rivals Arsenal on Wednesday night (Picture: Getty)

The German added: ‘Billy Gilmour had to step up because we miss Kova so much and we normally play always with a double six.

‘We were constantly rotating between N’Golo [Kante], Jorgi [Jorginho] and Kova [Kovacic]. We missed Kova for so many games it was on Billy to step up and I was very happy he could deliver when it was needed. Full credit for that.

‘But Kova is a big, big loss with his ability to drive with balls, his speed on the ball, without the ball and Kova is such a positive character and such a unique player and such a genuine fighter on whom you can always rely in training and in games has a big experience although he is still young.

‘We really miss him he was a good match with Jorgi and N’Golo in all combinations so it’s a big miss and I can’t wait until he’s back in full team training.

‘He has taken some steps in the right direction and I hope he can join after our game against Arsenal.’

Andreas Christensen was forced off with a nasty-looking thigh injury in Chelsea’s win at the Etihad but Tuchel is confident the Denmark defender will play again before the end of the campaign.

‘It was better than we feared, much better, the images yesterday,’ he revealed when asked for the latest on Christensen.

‘We hope he can come back for one of the two Leicester games.

‘It will be a tough one but the season is not finished for him hopefully.

‘We have realistic hopes that his latest comeback would be against Aston Villa.’

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