Thomas Tuchel has compared N’Golo Kante to the game’s modern-day greats including Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, believing it is a “miracle” Chelsea are set to finish in third place having been without the midfielder so often this season.
The Blues were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Leicester City on Wednesday night, a result which all but confirms their final placing barring an almost-impossible three-point and 18-goal swing with Tottenham on the final day.
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Kante made only his 20th Premier League start this term having endured a campaign dogged by various fitness issues, including a groin injury which delayed his start to the season, contracting COVID-19 and various muscular problems.
The 31-year-old World Cup winner, who has a year remaining on current contract, was a pivotal figure in last year’s Champions League triumph and when asked about the Frenchman’s outing against Leicester — his first start since April 28 — Tuchel said: “I think he is our key, key, key player but key, key, key players need to be on the pitch and if he plays only 40% of the games, it is maybe a miracle that we arrive in third place. He is our Mo Salah, our [Virgil] van Dijk, our [Kevin] De Bruyne.
“He is simply that player. He is our Neymar, our Kylian Mbappe, he is the guy who makes the difference and if you only have him 40%, it is a huge problem.
“It is maybe a miracle of how consistent we produce results and puts everything into perspective because I saw Liverpool last season without Van Dijk and they struggled heavily. You see the difference. N’Golo is our key player but he needs to be on the pitch.”
Pushed on whether he was confident Chelsea could find a solution to Kante’s injury issues, Tuchel replied: “Hope so. It is hard to live with because it is important to be there to have the rhythm.
“I thought he played OK [against Leicester] but he can play so much better but when was his last game when he started? It was weeks ago so he constantly starts getting rhythm and when he has rhythm comes a little injury and he is out again.
“Imagine last year: he was in the last five matches of Champions League, he got the ‘man of the match’ trophy. They handed him the trophy before the match, it was clear and this guy who gets man of the match in every Champions League game, he is only here for 40% of the matches, this is huge for us.
“We do everything to solve it, of course, him as well. I don’t blame him. It is a concern and a fact we miss him a lot because he brings something that is unique in world football and he has that ability to lift everybody up and make the difference. This is the challenge for him and for us.”