Tuchel set to make changes as Kovacic is ruled out by Covid

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel will make several changes to his side for Wednesday’s Champions League clash against Zenit St Petersburg in Russia but confirmed Matteo Kovacic won’t feature after testing positive for Covid-19.

The 27-year-old returned to training on Monday after being sidelined since October due to a hamstring issue but the injury-hit Blues, who lost to West Ham on Saturday, won’t be able to give him some much-needed game time after a routine test ruled him out of the match.

The holders have already booked their place in the knockout stages of the competition and Tuchel, whose side host Leeds on Saturday, admits he has one eye on the visit of Marcelo Bielsa’s team.

“The decisions are not made yet, we have a bit of acute overload due to injuries and the schedule,” Tuchel said.

“The schedule we and the players can handle, but the injuries, particularly in centre midfield is where we are struggling.

“The game tomorrow is not a problem in terms of overload, it is the game that comes up on Saturday.

“We played the early match on Saturday against West Ham, we now have a late evening game in St Petersburg and then we get back early on Thursday, then on Saturday we face a very intense team in Leeds.

“So there is a huge chance we rest some players but more importantly we give some players who need minutes and rhythm the chance to play.”

Saul, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Kepa are among the players who could start the game in Russia and Tuchel said the continued absence of N’Golo Kante, who is sidelined with a knee injury picked up in the 4-0 win over Juventus two weeks ago, has been sorely felt.

“N’Golo is a Superman and makes a difference and is the guy every team in the world wants to have in their midfield and we miss him,” he said.

“We have proved we can get results without him, but it’s easier with him.

“Saul is always within our thoughts, he is one of the guys we think about but he has struggled a bit with the intensity.

“I think he was unlucky as he played against Aston Villa, Southampton and Watford and all three were high-intensity games even for the Premier League and that did not suit his best qualities.

“We will not stop to encourage him to try and bring out the best in him and that might be tomorrow.”

Tuchel admitted he would have welcomed the chance to blood Kovacic back into the side given Kante’s absence and said the Croatian is bitterly disappointed to have to remain in London along with Trevoh Chalobah, who is suffering with a hamstring problem.

“Mateo was in training yesterday with a big smile and it was a pleasure to have him back,” he said.

“But he tested positive today and is out for several more days which is a huge setback for him personally and for all of us.”