Graham Potter Must Solve Chelsea’s Own Neymar Problem

It’s now the turn of Graham Potter to solve the N’Golo Kante problem no Chelsea head coach in recent seasons has been able to do

The frustration was clear in the voice of Thomas Tuchel. Once again, the player he viewed as the most important to his Chelsea team was sidelined due to injury.

“He is our key, key, key player but the key, key players need to be on the pitch – and plays only 40% of the games,” the exasperated German coach said. “He is our Mo Salah. He is our Virgil van Dijk. He is our Kevin De Bruyne. He is simply that player: our Neymar or Kylian Mbappe.”

The player in question was, of course, N’Golo Kante The brilliant Frenchman has won nearly all there is to win during his time at Stamford Bridge. He was integral to a Premier League triumph under Antonio Conte won the Europa League with Maurizio Sarri, and was the defining player in Chelsea’s run to the 2021 Champions League.

Yet over the past three seasons, Kante has spent more and more time on the sidelines. He has cracked the 3,000-minute mark – which equates to around 33 matches – just once for Chelsea and his absences had a profound impact on the tactical structure built by Tuchel. And, in turn, results suffered.

That much is clear from the numbers. When Kante featured for Chelsea in the Premier League under Tuchel, be it as a starter of from the bench, Chelsea won 58.5% of their top-flight matches. But without the 31-year-old patrolling in midfield, that figure dropped significantly to 47.5%.

“A guy like N’Golo, with the mentality of a helper, a water carrier, makes the difference and big teams and successful teams need this,” Tuchel added. “That’s why we love him so much, and everybody wants to play with him and why we miss him so much when he is not there.”

But how much longer will Kante be at Chelsea? It’s a question that doesn’t have a definitive answer. His contract expires at the end of the current campaign and, according to the Athletic, the France international has turned down a verbal offer from the club’s new ownership of a two-year deal with the option of a further 12 months.

That is understandable on the part of Kante. Not only has he proved himself one of European football’s best players over the last seven years but his importance to Chelsea, as highlighted above, is undiminished. Throw in the four-year contract handed to Kalidou Koulibaly when the defender signed from Napoli earlier this summer and Kante’s stance is hardly outlandish.

Prior to his dismissal, however, Tuchel admitted Kante’s injury record had to come into consideration during any talks over his future. “You have to consider everything that is on the table,” the German coach said last month. “And on the table is his potential, on the table is his influence and his quality.

“But on the table of course is his age, his salary, and his injury rate. From there you build a whole picture and try to find a solution.”

Kante would not be short of offers were he to walk away from Stamford Bridge on a free transfer next summer. And the Chelsea squad would undoubtedly be weaker without his almost unique skill set. That gives him strong bargaining power in contract negotiations and the easy thing to do would be to give the Frenchman what he wants – and arguably deserves.

Perhaps this is where Graham Potter can play an important role. His appointment as head coach means a clean slate at Chelsea, in terms of personnel but also tactically. Of course, the 47-year-old will want to utilize Kante and make the most of his many talents, but the hope, especially as Kante is currently ruled out, must be that Potter can devise a structure that isn’t reliant on the 31-year-old.

It’s a challenge previous Chelsea head coaches have struggled with – and Kante’s ability is not something that should ever be brushed aside. Yet if Potter can transition the Blues away from their Kante dependency, it does open up the possibility of a future without the midfielder. Or at the very least, it ensures Boehly has another card to play in future contract talks.

Source: Football.London

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