Mario Pasalic: The Chelsea loanee aiming to soothe Jose's midfield headache

The 20-year-old Croatian has impressed at Monaco of late, and Andrew Gibney explains why he could be the perfect partner for Nemanja Matic at Stamford Bridge...

WHO IS HE?

  • Date of birth: February 9, 1995
  • Place of birth: Mainz, Germany
  • Height: 6ft 1in
  • Position: Central midfield
  • Club: Monaco, on loan from Chelsea (11 apps, 3 goals)
  • Former club(s): Hajduk Split, Elche (loan)
  • International: Croatia (2 caps, 0 goals)

Monaco’s Ligue 1 season began with a bang: on the eve of their Champions League play-off with Valencia, they were handed an opening-day derby against OGC Nice down on the French Riviera.

Making his league debut, Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic was given a rude awakening after just 25 minutes as coach Leonardo Jardim decided to substitute the Croatian midfielder for Bernardo Silva with his side trailing 1-0 at the Allianz Riviera.

The subsequent 65 minutes justified the Portuguese coach’s decision, with Bernardo Silva netting a second-half equaliser and Monaco turning things around to snatch a 2-1 win.

At that moment, Pasalic may have wondered whether he’d made the right decision in joining the principality club for the season.

Injury issues

Pasalic added to the Monaco attack by pushing forward when space appeared, as well as helping to shield the defence alongside the more creative Joao Moutinho

"I have signed a one-year loan and am proud to play at such a big club,” the 20-year-old had beamed after putting pen to paper in July. “It is an honour when a Champions League quarter-finalist wants you. I believe I will find my place in the starting line-up and prove to Monaco that they were right in bringing me here.”

The hunt for a regular slot in Jardim’s XI has proved difficult thus far, but the young midfielder will now get his chance to shine in ASM’s first team.

Last Friday, Monaco began their Ligue 1 encounter with Lyon with only one fit centre-back. Veteran midfielder Jeremy Toulalan was forced to fill in beside Wallace, handing Pasalic the opportunity to make only his fourth start of the season.

The pressure was on but the Chelsea loanee put it in a fine all-round performance. Pasalic added to the Monaco attack by pushing forward when space appeared, as well as helping to shield the defence alongside the more creative Joao Moutinho. Shortly before the interval, he put his 6ft 1in frame to good use, heading home Thomas Lemar’s corner-kick to give his side a valuable lead.

Monaco would have to play the last 25 minutes with only 10 men after Wallace was shown a red card. Lyon took full advantage, piling on the pressure immediately and eventually nicking an equaliser with just six minutes left on the clock.

Jardim and his side will have been disappointed but, for Pasalic, the one silver lining is that the Brazilian’s suspension should open the door for him even further: Toulalon will continue to play in the backline while both Ricardo Carvalho and Andrea Raggi get back to full fitness, giving Pasalic the chance to establish himself as a regular fixture in the Red and Whites' engine room.

The heir to Geoffrey

The former Hajduk Split midfielder spent last season on loan at Elche, but the level of competition and expectation has been ramped up higher this time around. Indeed, while Elche finished 13th in La Liga last term, Monaco reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League and ended the Ligue 1 campaign in third.

Geoffrey Kondogbia, a key man in Monaco's fine season in 2014/15, departed for Inter Milan in the summer, with Pasalic given the unenviable task of replacing the €35 million man.

Kondogbia celebrates opening the scoring in Monaco's Champions League last 16 tie with Arsenal

"Kondogbia is a top player and I am honoured that the club see me as his successor," he said. "Hey, I am 20 years old and have played in the Spanish and now the French leagues. Not bad."

His Monaco career got off to the perfect start with a goal in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier against Young Boys. He also netted in the play-off round against Valencia, even though the Spaniards ultimately proved too strong for Jardim’s men over two legs and progressed to the group stage.

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Lampard or Modric?

Adding more protection to the defence than Cesc Fabregas, his range of passing and reading of the game would help Jose Mourinho’s side transition quickly from defence to attack

Pasalic has shown plenty of qualities as a deep-lying midfielder, but he is most comfortable in a box-to-box No. 8 role, just like one of his idols, Frank Lampard.

The youngster has frequently been compared to countryman Luka Modric but, in truth, their styles are rather dissimilar: the younger Croatian is taller, takes longer strides and is a much more powerful force than the Real Madrid man. Pasalic is certainly not as crafty or creative as Modric, but he does seem to possess that same ability to read the game and helps it flow.

It is precisely those qualities that make him a perfect fit at Monaco - and perhaps also give him a long-term future in West London.

Pasalic gets to grips with Alexandre Lacazette

“Mario has grown at Hajduk,” said Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo before his move to England. “In the summer he has to go to a club where he will continue to evolve in order to one day play at Stamford Bridge.”

Pasalic already looks like he would slot in nicely alongside Nemanja Matic in the Chelsea midfield. Adding more protection to the defence than Cesc Fabregas, his range of passing and reading of the game would help Jose Mourinho’s side transition quickly from defence to attack.

Pasalic will be hoping that Jardim continues to show faith in him for the rest of the season, even when the injuries clear up.

Playing in Ligue 1 and the Europa League is the ideal step before pushing for a place at Chelsea, and Pasalic must make sure he takes full advantage of the opportunity. His first three months in Monte Carlo have been something of a rollercoaster, the perfect preparation for life in the Premier League under Mourinho.

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