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Cole: Kovacic crucial alongside Kante

Chelsea legend Joe Cole says N’Golo Kante’s exceptional performance in the impressive 2-0 win against Atletico Madrid was partly down to playing alongside Mateo Kovacic.

The Croatian played in the second ‘double-six role’ in the absence of the suspended Jorginho and – like Kante – was outstanding as the Blues wrapped up a stress-free 3-0 aggregate victory to set a first Champions League quarter-final in seven years.

Kovacic matched the energy of Kante and the pair dominated the midfield at Stamford Bridge.

“You have the legs in the midfield and Kante looks about five years younger now,” said Cole, now working as pundit for BT Sport.

“I think he likes having Kovacic there as well because he takes the burden off him.

“Kante was sensational. Not only does he have the physical capabilities but he has the canny ability to be in the right place at the right time.

“It’s like having two men. He blocks lines and still has the energy to break forward in the 90th minute. He is unbelievable.

“Kante was fantastic and was back to his best. And his technical ability is under-rated – he can dribble and pass.

“He has missed a lot of football but he has a good run at it now and has built his match stamina.”

The Blues – leading 1-0 after the first leg – kept an 11th clean sheet in 13 games under Tuchel.

Tuchel’s side went ahead through Hakim Ziyech’s side-footed finish from Timo Werner’s pass in the first half and Emerson scored a second breakaway goal in the 94th minute.

Cole said the midfield pairing played a huge part in a complete team performance.

“Chelsea look harmonious and the players were together,” Cole added. “What I loved was when Emerson got his goal, the whole team – including Edouard Mendy ran to him.

“Everything is working well at the moment. It was a great performance on the ball and off it. They were so solid and they looked like a threat. It was fantastic.

“Emerson’s goal was a beautiful end to a perfect performance. Atletico did not get close to putting a dent in Chelsea.”

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