Thomas Tuchel is handling N'Golo Kante with care
N’Golo Kante has been plagued by injuries after being run into the ground by Conte and Sarri, and – once unthinkable – he is no longer first-choice… but is his new role off the bench really the way Thomas Tuchel must handle him?
- N’Golo Kante has not been a regular starter at Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel
- The France international has struggled with injuries, and missed a lot of last term
- He was a permanent fixture in both Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri’s sides
- Tuchel insists he has been delighted with Kante’s impact from the bench so far
There was a time when N’Golo Kante would be the first name on the Chelsea teamsheet.
There has been no player over the past few seasons who has better personified reliability, with his industry in the middle of the park playing a key role in Leicester City’s title success, before filling the exact same role at Stamford Bridge.
Finding himself on the bench, week in, week out, under new head coach Thomas Tuchel, then, is not something the France international is accustomed to.
Thomas Tuchel has been using N’Golo Kante sparingly since taking up his role at Chelsea
The German technician appears to have tasked him with a new role – Mr Dependable, ready to come off the bench and see his side over the line. Whether Kante can be convinced to embrace the role full-time, though, is up for question.
There has already been suggestions that the World Cup winner isn’t impressed by his new position within the team. His reluctance to celebrate with his boss on the pitch following the victory over Newcastle – though not uncharacteristic – has been picked up on by supporters who are concerned about losing their midfield engine.
However, following a season blighted by injuries, and the recent recurrence of a hamstring issue before Tuchel’s arrival, it may be that a reboot is exactly what the doctor ordered.
It has to be pointed out that Tuchel has used Kante in every single one of his six matches in charge of Chelsea to date.
The 29-year-old appeared for the final 16 minutes of Tuesday night’s impressive Champions League victory over Atletico Madrid, his fourth substitute appearance under the German.
The Frenchman has started just once in the FA Cup, coming off the bench in every other game
It came three days after his first Premier League start during the former Paris Saint-Germain boss’s reign, against Southampton at St Mary’s.
Tuchel has made it clear he believes Kante to be an integral part of his side, insisting so ahead of the FA Cup tie at Barnsley earlier this month, where he handed him his first start, and the captain’s armband.
Before the Oakwell clash, Tuchel told reporters: ‘I think N’Golo fits into any manager’s plans on the planet. I was desperate to have him in my teams [in the past].
‘I am so happy to have him back again. We put him on the pitch against Tottenham and he helped everybody on the pitch, which is what he does.
‘To see the guy live, to see how he works, how humble he is, the quality he gives to the team. I am so humble to be his coach.’
It is clear the former Foxes star is a wanted man, as far as his boss is concerned. But there is one caveat.
Tuchel would much prefer the Kante that arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2016, than the one who limped through last season, having been ran into the ground by both Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri.
Under Antonio Conte, Kante was the first name on the teamsheet, starting week in, week out
Maurizio Sarri (left) also relied heavily on the former Leicester City midfielder during his tenure
KANTE PLAYING TIME PER BOSS AT CHELSEA
N’Golo Kante has played under four different coaches at Chelsea and is usually heavily relied upon:
Matches: 89 Minutes: 7,704 Minutes per game: 86.6
Matches: 53 Minutes: 4,186 Minutes per game: 79.0
Matches: 52 Minutes: 4,036 Minutes per game: 77.6
Matches: 6 Minutes: 247 Minutes per game: 41.2
The stats don’t lie. There is a telling drop off from the stats boasted by Kante during his first two seasons at the Bridge to now.
Conte undoubtedly got the best of out of the midfield dynamo, but there was an over reliance on the Frenchman, who played an average of 86.6 minutes for every game he was available to the Italian.
It was little wonder, with Kante producing performances of the highest quality. Performances that earned him the Premier League Player of the Season award in 2017. He was also named the PFA Players’ Player and Chelsea’s Players’ Player of the Year.
Having been named Chelsea’s Player of the Year in Conte’s final season, Sarri sought to squeeze every last ounce of effort from him, too.
That saw Kante play an astonishing 53 games under the former Napoli boss, starting 36 of their 38 Premier League matches and playing in the Europa League final despite suffering a knee injury in training the weekend before the Baku showpiece.
Most reports suggested the problem should have ruled him out, but he played the entire 90 minutes of the 4-1 win over Arsenal.
While his willingness to go the extra mile is admirable, it has also added to his fitness issues that plagued him last term.
Under Frank Lampard, Kante played just 22 times in the Premier League – a mixture of ankle, groin, muscle and hamstring injuries keeping him out at separate stages throughout the season.
Stats and insights are provided by SofaScore. Visit their website here for more statistics
His effectiveness suffered. Almost across the board, Kante appeared less effective than when he first joined the club.
While Sarri and Lampard had both instructed Kante to do most of his work down the right channel of the pitch, Conte had asked him to carry out much of his work in the centre of the park.
Last season, Kante was making fewer tackles, winning fewer duels and giving away more fouls than when he arrived – possible signs of fatigue taking its hold on the player.
Lampard had worked on using him more centrally again this campaign, but injuries again had begun to rear their head. In the matches before Lampard’s dismissal, Kante was unavailable once more due to a hamstring problem.
Tuchel will have studied Kante and noticed the vast discrepancies in his performances. He may have come to one of two conclusions.
The first is that Kante can, gradually, return to those performances that led him to being crowned the Premier League’s best in 2017. That by carefully restoring him to the first team, his natural fitness will come flooding back.
There will be opportunities for the diminutive No 7 on the horizon. A more defensive set-up will be required in clashes against Manchester United and Liverpool, and that could see him take centre stage.
After his Champions League cameo, there is every likelihood Kante will be back in the starting line-up for the second leg, too, after Jorginho picked up a suspension in Bucharest.
Still, it may be the case that his manager is focused on using him sparingly, even if fully fit.
Tuchel has already played down the suggestion that there are concerns over his fitness during his Barnsley press conference.
Frank Lampard was not able to rely on Kante as much, as the Frenchman suffered with injuries
‘[I am] not concerned about any more injuries because I feel the support and quality of the medical department. We can manage his minutes and workload and take care of him,’ he said.
‘I am not concerned about his quality. What I see on the pitches here at Cobham is, how can I put it, it’s everything I expected and I expected a lot because I am a huge fan of him.
‘I can see the input he has on teams. He makes teams better. He has the mentality of a water carrier but on such a high level.’
If fitness isn’t the issue, then it could well be that Tuchel has a less demanding role in store.
For a star that demands so much of himself, that may not be enough for Kante to stick around come the end of the season.
Tuchel insists Kante is a key part of his plans and is not concerned about his overall fitness
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