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Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic expected to miss Real Madrid semi-final

Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic expected to miss Real Madrid semi-final
© Reuters
The Croatia international has a hamstring problem and is unlikely to be ready to face his old club in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Mateo Kovacic is likely to miss Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid.

The Croatia midfielder has missed the Blues’ last three matches after picking up a hamstring problem on the eve of the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Porto.

The 26-year-old has been ruled out of Saturday’s Premier League trip to West Ham, and boss Thomas Tuchel has admitted the former Real star will be hard-pressed to face his old club in Madrid on Tuesday night.

“I think Madrid could be very close, but obviously he has not trained with the team,” said Tuchel.

“When should this happen? Tomorrow is the (West Ham) game, then we have two more days to prepare for Real Madrid for the semi-final of the Champions League.”

Chelsea lost that quarter-final second leg 1-0 to Porto in Seville without the influential defensive midfielder Kovacic, but reached the last-four 2-1 on aggregate.

The Blues’ German boss Tuchel dedicated that semi-final progression to Kovacic, who had been a late withdrawal due to an injury in the last training session before the decisive Porto clash.

Kovacic helped Real Madrid to three Champions League titles in his time with the Spanish giants, and would doubtless have been itching to line up against his former club in Tuesday’s first leg.

Chelsea v Brighton and Hove Albion – Premier League – Stamford Bridge
Thomas Tuchel, pictured, hopes Mateo Kovacic will be back in action sooner rather than later despite a hamstring injury (Neil Hall/PA)

Tuchel still hopes to have Kovacic back in time for Chelsea’s Premier League clash with Fulham on May 1, which would then leave him available for the return leg with Real on Wednesday, May 5.

“Me personally, I think we can hope for Fulham, but don’t take it as medical advice,” said Tuchel.

“Maybe the physios and doctors will kill me for that. Hopefully Fulham is a realistic target.”

Chelsea’s trip to West Ham on Saturday is likely to prove pivotal in the race for a top-four Premier League finish.

The Blues leapfrogged the Hammers into fourth place courtesy of Tuesday’s Brighton stalemate, where Kepa Arrizabalaga kept his second straight clean sheet having featured in the 1-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City.

The Spain stopper has fallen behind Edouard Mendy in the Stamford Bridge pecking order this season, but continues to impress Tuchel with his training-ground application.

Tuchel confirmed Mendy will return to start against West Ham, but hailed Kepa’s attitude and abilities at the same time.

“Mendy is in goal; the change was made for Kepa for the cup game,” said Tuchel.

“And even before the cup game, the goalkeeper coach and I decided that Kepa would stay in for one more game after City as a reward, and to keep the rhythm of playing every three days.

“It should be like a real reward and not just a reward him for the competition, because of how he is playing.

“And in the dressing room he is simply outstanding in terms of quality and personality and I’m very happy that he could show it on the pitch again.

Chelsea v Manchester City – FA Cup – Semi Final – Wembley Stadium
Thomas Tuchel, left, has praised Kepa Arrizabalaga, right, for his hard graft at Chelsea (Ian Walton/PA)

“He had two clean sheets in two difficult matches for us.

“So it is a very good feeling to know we can rely on two goalkeepers and they can produce clean sheets.

“They have earned our trust in the moment and the situation in general has not changed, Edou will be in goal tomorrow.”

Chelsea have also revealed plans to install rail seating at Stamford Bridge next season, while general admission season ticket prices have been frozen for the 2021/22 campaign.

“A further upgrade to Stamford Bridge that we are pleased to announce is the installation of rail seating in the Matthew Harding Lower and Shed End Upper and Lower tiers,” read a Chelsea statement.

“This change, which will be ready for the 2021/22 season subject to approval by the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) and its Safety Advisory Group (SAG), will enhance supporter safety by replacing the current seats in those sections of the stadium.

“The decision is the result of many months of consultation with the SGSA and Hammersmith and Fulham Council, as well as work with independent architects to find the optimum solution for Stamford Bridge.”

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Monday's key events

· There are no Brits in the women's 100m hurdles final, but Puerto Rico's Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, fresh from breaking the Olympic record in the semis, will hope to pip world record holder Kendra Harrison to gold (3.50am)
· The women's 5000m final also has no Team GB representation, but two-time world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya will be looking to add an Olympic gold to her list of honours (1.40pm)

· The women's skiff 49er FX (6.33am) and men's skiff 49er (7.33am) come to their conclusion, with Team GB involved in both medal races

· A place in the women's gold medal match is up for grabs, starting with an all-North American semi-final between United States and Canada (9am)
· Australia, who edged past Team GB's in a seven-goal quarter-final thriller, take on Sweden in the second semi-final (12pm)

· The track cycling schedule gets underway, with Team GB holding a particular interest in the team pursuit qualifying. Laura Kenny is part of the women's team (7.54am), while the men's team includes Ed Clancy (9.02am)

· The Gadirova twins Jessica and Jennifer will both take part in the women's floor final as they look to add to their team bronze (9.57am)

· Newly-crowned European champion Emily Campbell flies the flag for Great Britain in the women's +87kg, but faces stiff competition for medals from China's Li Wenwen and New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard (11.50am)

· The women's hockey quarter-finals begin, with Team GB last up against Spain (1pm)

> Today's schedule in full
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