It is no secret that Chelsea are a far better team when N’Golo Kante is on the pitch, but Thomas Tuchel has a big call to make with the mercurial midfielder.
Kante sustained his fourth injury of the season on Boxing Day as the Blues beat Aston Villa 3-1. Chelsea’s World Cup winner was making just his third appearance since returning from his third absence of the campaign with a knee injury.
Tuchel confirmed after the Villa win that his star midfielder had a problem in exactly the same spot that kept him out for five weeks previously having been withdrawn early in the second half at Villa Park.
He played 90 minutes against Wolves on his return from his last absence, which Tuchel described as “almost irresponsible” but the head coach’s hand was forced with the squad decimated by positive Covid tests and the Premier League refusing the Blues’ request to have the game postponed.
Kante was also a surprise inclusion in the matchday squad for the Carabao Cup win over Brentford and came off the bench for the final 13 minutes of the game.
Tuchel said after the quarter-final win: “N’Golo convinced me that he could be on the bench [against Brentford] which was very nice from him but also from the whole squad, because everyone was pushing to be on the bench or to be involved in the squad.
“Nobody gave me the feeling that they would like a pause from this challenging run of games and that is the character I like to see. N’Golo convinced me that he would prefer to be on the bench and to play some minutes rather than having a full rest.
“We decided to go with N’Golo’s wishes after discussing it with him but also from checking all his data from the last week and we had the green light to give him 20–25 minutes of action.”
Playing him more than he would have liked over Chelsea’s incredibly hectic festive period has now come at a cost for Tuchel, with Kante set to miss at least the Brighton game at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday and who knows how many more.
The head coach needs Kante in his starting 11 but the time has now come to make a big call with his star man and wrap him up in cotton wool if the Blues are to have any title aspirations this season.
Two games in a week, which is what Chelsea have pretty much all season and every season, may well be too much now for the World Cup winner.
The Blues have Mateo Kovacic back fit after his own injury issues, Ruben Loftus-Cheek shouldn’t be too far away from a return, Saul Niguez is a central midfielder, plus Jorginho is there as well so Tuchel does have options in the middle of the park. But, there is only one N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea can compete for trophies this season without Kante in their side but having him on the pitch for those big games is absolutely massive. You only have to look at the Blues’ run to Champions League glory for evidence of that, when Kante dropped ten out of ten performances all the way through the knockout stages and the final itself in Porto.
It is a delicate situation for Tuchel, knowing that he needs his midfielder in his team if he wants to win the big games but he also needs to protect Kante, who has started to show some fragility with injuries this season.
Source by Football London