Thomas Tuchel confirmed that Kovacic, who had returned to full training after suffering a hamstring injury in October, had returned a positive test result this morning.
“Mateo was in training yesterday with a big smile and was pure pleasure to have him back. But he tested positive today for Covid and is isolating,” the head coach said at his pre-match press conference.
The news comes as yet another injury setback for Tuchel, who confirmed that N’Golo Kante and Jorginho are both also unavailable.
“[Kante] is superman, the guy who makes the difference, the guy everybody in the world wants to have in their midfield,” Tuchel said of the Frenchman’s continued absence, who has been left out of Chelsea’s last three matchday squads.
It is likely that Saul Niguez, who has endured a disappointing time at Chelsea since joining on loan from Atletico Madrid, will be given another opportunity to reverse his fortunes.
“We try to encourage him because he grows into Chelsea more and more,” Tuchel said. “We will not stop encouraging him and trying to bring out the best.”
Chelsea are already guaranteed qualification into the Champions League knockout stages, but must defeat Zenit in order to guarantee they take top spot in the group ahead of Juventus.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies