Chelsea are preparing for the absence of N’Golo Kante after the midfielder suffered a hamstring injury during the international break. The 26-year-old was forced off after only 33 minutes during France’s match against Bulgaria. Sky Sports report that the Blues are hopeful that it won’t be a long-term problem, but the full extent of the injury isn’t known yet.
If he is to miss a few matches, it will be a huge blow for Chelsea as Kante is central to their style of play. His work rate and tenacity allow the Blues to start with a three-man defence, as he does a lot of the running in the middle of the park to ensure the team is well balanced. Since moving to England, the French international has played a part in two title-winning seasons for two different teams, which underlines the qualities he provides in the middle of the park.
His contributions haven’t gone unnoticed across Europe as the Evening Standard report that Kante has been nominated for the 2017 Ballon D’Or award. He was among the first five nominees to be announced and although he is unlikely to be a serious contender to win the award, it consolidates his reputation as one of the best in his position.
Kante has yet to suffer a dip in form since arriving in the Premier League and he has started the current campaign with a similarly impressive level of consistency in his performances. He is currently averaging 3 successful tackles and 2.29 interceptions per ninety minutes, ranking him as one of the best at winning the ball in midfield areas. Chelsea look to play a quick, incisive attacking style which centres on their midfielders being able to win the ball back in an efficient manner. They will need to replace the 26-year-old to continue succeeding with their current style.
Who can replace him?
Danny Drinkwater was signed on transfer deadline day and could be a good option to deputise for Kante, but his current fitness level is not clear. BBC Sport reported last month that he wouldn’t make his Blues’ debut until October. Although he is set to feature at some point this month, it might be a push for him to return to action this weekend, even if his former Leicester City team-mate is ruled out of the trip to Crystal Palace.
A more realistic solution for Antonio Conte is a midfield partnership of Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko. They have both played a prominent role in the season so far and are good enough to cover on an interim basis. The latter is currently averaging 3.13 successful tackles and 2.23 interceptions per ninety minutes, which is a better rate than Kante, albeit the former Monaco midfielder has spent less time on the pitch.
There is no doubting Bakayoko’s ball-winning qualities, but he would have to do a lot of the running and in central areas, as Fabregas doesn’t offer a lot defensively. The Spaniard is a lot more effective in possession. He can do a job out of possession, but he won’t be anywhere near as effective as Kante.
There were times last season when Chelsea had success with a midfield of Kante and Fabregas. If the former does have to sit out this weekend, Conte will be hoping that a partnership between Bakayoko and Fabregas can have a similar level of success. Based on the reports on the injury, it seems unlikely that Kante will be missing for a sustained period of time, but given the packed fixture list for October, it would be wise for Chelsea to be cautious with him. He is too important to rush back and risk suffering a further injury to his hamstring.