“I think he’s our key, key, key player, but key, key, key players have to be on the pitch,” replied Thomas Tuchel when asked about N’Golo Kante’s form and fitness in 2022. “Given the fact that he’s only played 40% of the games, it’s perhaps a wonder we finish third. He’s our Mo Salah. He’s our (Virgil) van Dijk. He’s our (Kevin) De Bruyne, he’s just that player, our Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
“He’s the guy who makes the difference and if you only have him at 40% then that’s a huge problem. It puts everything into perspective. I saw Liverpool without van Dijk last season and they had big problems. You see him Difference.” . N’Golo is our key player. We need him on the pitch.”
But Tuchel was not finished with that. Far from it. “He’s one of the best midfielders in the world,” the German continued. “Because it’s not so obvious that he’s not in the spotlight, it makes him all the more important to a team. A guy like N’Golo with the mentality of a helper, a water carrier, makes all the difference. Big teams and successful teams need that. That’s why we love him so much.”
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Kante joined Chelsea from Leicester City in 2016 and won the Premier League in his first season at Stamford Bridge. An FA Cup followed. Then a Europa League. And under Tuchel, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup were won. And let’s not forget, he won the World Cup with France.
The 31-year-old played a pivotal role in each of those successes, delivering game-changing performances. “Last year, in the last five knockout games of the Champions League, he did that [man-of-the-match] Trophy. I mean, they almost handed him the trophy before the game,” Tuchel joked earlier this month.
Unfortunately, Kante was not able to maintain his level of performance in the 2021/22 season; Given the heights he reached on Chelsea’s trek to Porto, that might not come as a huge surprise. He only started 21 Premier League games as injury and illness affected his form.
What was perhaps most telling was Kante had not returned to the starting XI for the FA Cup final against Liverpool after suffering an injury. Instead, it was Mateo Kovacic – whose ankle was twice the normal size – who was pushed into service at Wembley for as long as he could muster.
Kante came on in the second half and there were groans from Liverpool supporters who have often watched the Frenchman single-handedly lock down the midfield. That didn’t happen this time. Kante was fine, ok, middle of the road. It’s not what Chelsea fans expect.
Because of that, the Blues face a tough decision about Kante’s future this summer. His contract expires in 2023 and talks about a contract extension have not taken place. It explains why there are growing suspicions among rival clubs that Chelsea might be willing to let the France international move on for the right price.
Manchester United have been linked with a report in The Athletic that the Reds are considering a move for Kante this summer as they begin rebuilding under Erik ten Hag. There is little doubt that the midfielder would improve United; His experience and professionalism alone would be of great benefit in a troubled dressing room.
And perhaps after a well-deserved summer off for Kante to rest and refresh, he will come back strong next season, rediscovering his best form and once again living up to the De Bruyne, Mbappe and Neymar comparisons that Tuchel made for two weeks has before.
Because of this, Chelsea can’t sell Kante to Manchester United. You shouldn’t even consider it. In a season of great unknowns after taking over the Todd Boehly-led consortium, the Blues can’t strengthen a Premier League rival, they can’t gift them a player who could prove yet again as the best in the league. It won’t be worth the money.
“He can make the difference, but he can only make the difference when he’s on the pitch and at his top level,” added Tuchel after the Chelsea-Leicester City draw at Stamford Bridge. “That’s our goal for him – and he always gives his all [to get back]. He’s one of the best.”