N’Golo Kante has seemingly experienced a resurgence under new Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel. The French midfielder is finally firing on all cylinders again, having dealt with injuries for a much longer period than was hoped. He wasn’t used in Tuchel’s first two games as he was recovering from a hamstring injury but, since then, the German coach has been slowly incorporating his lung-busting play into the new system, with minutes increasing.
Kante has started the last three Premier League games for the Blues, leaving the manager with a positive conundrum given Mateo Kovacic’s own good form in recent times.
Tuchel seemed to prefer a midfield pairing of Kovacic and Jorginho, having gone that route in the recent Champions League win over Atletico Madrid. The former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain boss has revealed plans to manage the player’s minutes ahead of the international break, also boasting Kante does the work of two players on the pitch.
The tireless star was instrumental in Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Liverpool last week, bossing things in the middle of the park. The Frenchman made three successful tackles along with four interceptions, playing the telling pass that led to Mason Mount’s winner too.
Keeping Kante fit and firing remains the priority For the new boss.
“It was clear from the first second in training what this guy is capable of doing,” the manager said after Thursday’s crucial win at Anfield. “This is unbelievable and we see his intensity in the physical report after matches and we think maybe they tracked two people and put it into one sheet!
“It is unbelievable what he delivers in terms of intensity and ball recoveries and of devotion for a group. This is world class, the highest level, and we are very happy he is in our squad. He comes from injury. He will not play now all games 90 minutes before we arrive at the international break. We have to manage him.
“We do this now with our physical coaches and we have to take care that he arrives fit until the national break and when he comes back, this is normally the momentum where I hope we can rely on him in every game. I am very happy to have him and Kova and Jorginho in defensive midfield. This is exactly the level we need to win games at the highest level and I am super happy with all of them.”
Chelsea are still unbeaten under Tuchel and the top betting sites have them as one of the favourites to finish in the top four. The Blues are 9/4 to end the season in a Champions League place but a distant 250/1 to win the top flight. Manchester City are the clear favourites for that honour at 1/500 after opening a 14 point lead at the top of the league table.
Meanwhile, Manchester United are 1/5 for a top-four finish, with Leicester City at 4/5, Liverpool at 1/1, and Everton at 4/1.
The bookies reckon the Blues have a better chance of winning the Champions League this season, with the Londoners 14/1 to lift the major European trophy for the second time in their history. Their 1-0 aggregate lead over Atletico certainly does leave them in a great position but the tie is far from over. City are also the outright favourites on that end at 5/2, with holders Bayern Munich attached to odds of 10/3. PSG are 5/1 while Liverpool are 7/1.
The Blues will host the Spanish side at Stamford Bridge on March 17 and are 21/22 to win the second leg of the tie. Atletico are 5/2 in that regard.
Tuchel has also admitted being worried about the upcoming international break due to the pandemic. Players would have to be quarantined upon return from international duty, which could leave the Blues shorthanded.
To that end, the manager hinted Chelsea could forbid players from joining their national sides during the break.
“I am absolutely worried,” he said. “Because my target is to play in the Premier League and if I have players who are in quarantine then I cannot build a group that we want. This is the risk and I am absolutely worried about this situation but I am also sure that the club knows how to handle it, and if it is maybe the consequence that players can’t go then this is the consequence.
“The situation is extraordinary and we have to adapt and we will do this as a club and we will take these decisions when these decisions are taken.”
Tuchel is hardly the only manager to speak about the potential inconveniences posed by the looming period. City boss Pep Guardiola has offered criticism as well.
“But I think it makes no sense if the players go to the national team and then have to isolate for 10 days when they come back. It makes no sense,” the Spaniard recently remarked. “We’ve worked incredibly tough for seven, eight or nine months and after the international break comes the real part of the season, and important players, maybe six, seven, eight, nine players cannot play for 10 days, it makes no sense. They are not going to fly. That’s for sure.”