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Sunday, May 29, 2022

Chelsea can't gift Manchester United their own Neymar with Thomas Tuchel stance clear

  think he is our key, key, key player, but key, key, key players need to be on the pitch," replied Thomas Tuchel when asked about N...

 

think he is our key, key, key player, but key, key, key players need to be on the pitch," replied Thomas Tuchel when asked about N'Golo Kante's form and fitness in 2022. "Given he's played only 40% of the games, it is maybe a miracle that we arrive in third place. He is our Mo Salah. He is our (Virgil) van Dijk. He is our (Kevin) De Bruyne. He is simply that player, our Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

"He is the guy who makes the difference, and if you only have him for 40%, then it is a huge problem. It puts everything into perspective. I saw Liverpool without van Dijk last season and they struggled heavily. You see the difference. N'Golo is our key player. We need him on the pitch." Tuchel wasn't done there, though. Far from it. "He is one of the very best midfielders in the world,"

the German continued. "Because is not that obvious, he is not in the spotlight, he is even more important for a team. A guy like N'Golo with the mentality of a helper, a water carrier, makes the difference. Big teams and successful teams need this. That's why we love him so much."

Kante arrived at Chelsea in 2016 from Leicester City 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, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup have all been claimed. And let's not forget, he has lifted the World Cup with France.

The 31-year-old played pivotal roles in each of those successes, with match-deciding performances produced.

"Last year, in the last five knockout matches of the Champions League, he got the [man-of-the-match] trophy. I mean, they almost handed him the trophy before the match,"

joked Tuchel earlier this month. Unfortunately, Kante wasn't able to maintain his level of performance during the 2021/22 campaign; given the heights he reached on Chelsea's route to Porto, perhaps that is no great surprise. He started just 21 Premier League matches as injuries and illness impacted his form.

What was perhaps most telling was that for the FA Cup final against Liverpool, Kante wasn't rushed back into the starting XI after injury. Instead, it was Mateo Kovacic – whose ankle was twice its normal size – thrust into duty at Wembley for as long as he could muster.

Kante did come on in the second half and there were groans from Liverpool supporters, who have often watched the Frenchman lockdown midfield single-handily. That didn't happen this time around. Kante was fine, ok, middle of the road. It's not what Chelsea fans have come to expect.

It's why the Blues face a difficult decision this summer over Kante's future. His contract expires in 2023 and talks to extend his deal have not taken place. It explains why there is a growing suspicion among rival clubs that Chelsea may be ready to let the France international move on for the right price.

Manchester United have been linked, with a report in The Athletic stating the Reds are considering a move for Kante this summer as they begin a rebuild under Erik ten Hag. There's little doubt the midfielder would improve United; his experience and professionalism alone would be of huge benefit in what has proved a problematic dressing room.

And perhaps after a much-deserved summer off in which Kante can rest and refresh, he will come back strongly next term, rediscover his best form, and once again live up to the De Bruyne, Mbappe, and Neymar comparisons made by Tuchel a fortnight ago.

It's for that reason that Chelsea can't sell Kante to Manchester United. They shouldn't even consider it. In a season of huge unknowns following the takeover of the Todd Boehly-led consortium, the Blues can't strengthen a Premier League rival, they can't gift them a player who could prove himself the league's best once more. The money will not be worth it.

"He can make the difference, but he can only make the difference if he is on the pitch and on his top level," added Tuchel after Chelsea's draw with Leicester City at Stamford Bridge. "This is our target for him – and he always does everything [to get back]. He is one of the very best."

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