Mateo Kovacic, a Chelsea midfielder, tested positive for coronavirus barely a day after returning to training, according to manager Thomas Tuchel.

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LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 14: Mateo Kovacic of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on August 14, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Tuchel had intended to ease the 27-year-old back into action this week after he had been out of action since late October.

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N’Golo Kante is still out with a knee ailment, while Jorginho has been forced to play through the pain of a back problem and will now miss Tuchel’s Champions League match against Zenit Saint Petersburg on Wednesday.

“We have bad news because Mateo was in training yesterday and with a big smile and it was a pure pleasure to have him back,” said Tuchel.

“But he tested positive today, for coronavirus, so he’s quarantining for a few days. So it’s a huge setback for him personally and for all of us.”

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The defending champions have already qualified for the Champions League knockout stages and will be declared Group H winners if they match or beat Juventus’ performance against Malmo this week.

Top rank could mean a more favorable knockout draw, but Tuchel will strike a balance between those goals and the necessity to keep his players fresh for Saturday’s Premier League match against Leeds at Stamford Bridge.

Tuchel, who is also without defenders Trevoh Chalobah and Ben Chilwell, revealed that the midfield injuries have taken their toll, with Chelsea losing at West Ham over the weekend, knocking them off the top of the Premier League table.

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“The game tomorrow in isolation is not the problem in terms of being overloaded, it’s more the game that comes up on Saturday,” said the German manager.

“We will lose time to sleep, we will arrive back in the very early morning of Thursday,” he added.

“And on Saturday we will face a very intense team of Leeds, who have prepared the whole week for this match.

“So long story, short message — there’s a huge chance that we rest some players and maybe more importantly we give some players the load who need the load, the minutes and rhythm, to put it another way.”

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