N’Golo Kante injury tells Marina Granovskaia who Chelsea should sign after £40m Brighton boost – Daniel Childs

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The positivity surrounding N’Golo Kante’s return from injury was very short-lived. The Frenchman was replaced by Mateo Kovacic in the 63rd minute at Villa Park on Sunday before Thomas Tuchel delivered the news all Blues fans had been dreading.

“N’Golo is very painful in exactly the same spot where he had his injury versus Juventus. It is exactly the same spot,” Tuchel replied when asked about the substitution.

The long-term repercussions of this setback for Kante are hard to predict. Having suffered the same injury against Juve in November, it was assumed he would only miss one or two games. His subsequent six-match absence has had a devastating impact on Chelsea’s campaign.

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His availability for the massive clash with Liverpool on January 2 is now in doubt, adding further strain onto an already intense month which includes the Carabao Cup semi-final against Tottenham and a trip to the Etihad Stadium to face champions Manchester City.

When it appeared a recently decimated squad was beginning to be reassembled, Kante’s injury setback only further heightens the stress on a troubled area.

I have previously written at length about the need to sign a long-term replacement for Kante (if that’s even possible) given his persistent injury issues, and this is just further proof of that.

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Thomas Tuchel will be desperate for N'Golo Kante to take some part against Brighton
Kante is as integral to Chelsea’s midfield as ever

Chelsea’s medical team and Tuchel have been extra precautious with the 30-year-old this season, resting him whenever they can and indicating to Didier Deschamps the need for caution when he heads off for international duty with France.

But even with those added measures, Kante’s continued struggles mean Tuchel and Chelsea cannot rely on his availability in the long term.

Saul Niguez’s recent upturn in form adds strength to an area that has looked very weak over the past month and there will be hope Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s return isn’t far away.

The biggest boost for Tuchel in the face of Kante’s injury woes is the reintroduction of Kovacic who has looked incredibly sharp and every bit the £40million player Chelsea signed on a permanent deal back in 2019.

In his three games against Wolves, Brentford and Aston Villa, the Croatian has smoothly slotted back into Chelsea’s midfield, showing the dynamic range of passing and determined drives forward he was showcasing so readily in the early weeks of the season.

His appearance on Sunday added much-needed energy and should have brought Chelsea’s third goal earlier than it eventually came from a Jorginho penalty.

A neat evasion of a Douglas Luiz challenge opened up the space for Kovacic to feed Callum Hudson-Odoi with a perfectly-weighted pass.

The winger’s telegraphed shot was well-stopped by Emi Martinez as the Villa goalkeeper ensured his side still had a foothold in the game heading into the final stages.

But that wasted chance should not wipe away Kovacic’s own creativity which has increased this season to make him a standout figure.

No one can replicate what Kante brings to Chelsea’s midfield play, but having a sharp Kovacic back will inject inspiration at a time when the energy within the squad has looked thin over recent weeks.

Though the wider issue that is Kante’s fitness remains something that has been an ongoing headache since the 2019 Europa League final.

Frank Lampard was rarely able to keep him fit for long periods after and Tuchel is now dealing with similar frustration.

Negotiating a deal for a new central midfielder feels like it will be one of Marina Granovskaia’s most important transfer missions in 2022.

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