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Sport Is it time for Chelsea to cash in on N'Golo Kante this summer?

00:46  18 september  2020
00:46  18 september  2020 Source:   dailymail.co.uk

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N'Golo Kanté, Frank Lampard playing a game of football: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

After N'Golo Kante gave the impression of being superhuman for so long, the breakdown was inevitable but still a shock.

Indefatigable, indomitable, invulnerable, the Frenchman has so often performed the duties of two men in the Chelsea midfield.

Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri pushed Kante's body to its limit for three seasons, playing him in every minute of football they could, and Frank Lampard was left to deal with the consequences.

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a football player on a field: N'Golo Kante in action for Chelsea in their friendly against Brighton as the new season nears © Provided by Daily Mail N'Golo Kante in action for Chelsea in their friendly against Brighton as the new season nears Antonio Conte, N'Golo Kanté are posing for a picture: Former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is keen for a reunion with Kante at Inter Milan © Provided by Daily Mail Former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is keen for a reunion with Kante at Inter Milan

Last season was the one in which Chelsea's midfield marathon runner finally hit his wall. The heavy workload caught up with Kante, who suffered a series of injuries and only played in 28 of 55 club matches.

So it seems incredibly harsh that Kante has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge during this summer window.

The latest is that Chelsea have rejected an offer from Inter Milan that involved Christian Eriksen and Marcelo Brozovic coming the other way in part-exchange for Kante.

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It seems that Conte, now the manager of Inter, wishes to run Kante into the ground some more but in a different league.

But Lampard has always publicly insisted that Kante isn't for sale and if they're to sell any of their midfielders this summer, it would be Jorginho instead.

'I've said it a lot of times about N'Golo - one of the best midfield players in the world. I would have loved to be able to play with him. He has everything,' Lampard said back in June.

a group of baseball players playing a football game: Kante suffered an injury-disrupted 2019-20 season with five separate setbacks © Provided by Daily Mail Kante suffered an injury-disrupted 2019-20 season with five separate setbacks Frank Lampard et al. looking at the camera: There have also been questions asked of whether Kante has adapted to Lampard's systems © Provided by Daily Mail There have also been questions asked of whether Kante has adapted to Lampard's systems

Besides, they have little interest in former Tottenham man Eriksen or the Croatian Brozovic, who would be more of a direct replacement in defensive midfield.

But the indications are that there would at least be a discussion over selling Kante should the right offer materialise - and that means a change in status for a player deemed absolutely indispensable for so long.

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So should Chelsea sell Kante? The crux of the arguments in favour seems to be that, at the age of 29, Kante must be past his peak.

The perception is that the golden years of Kante started in 2015, when he joined Leicester City from Caen and led them to that miraculous Premier League title triumph.

They continued as he helped France to the final of Euro 2016, moved to Chelsea that summer for £32m and made it back-to-back Premier League wins.

N'Golo Kanté et al. posing for the camera: Kante helped Leicester to their miraculous Premier League win during his first English season © Provided by Daily Mail Kante helped Leicester to their miraculous Premier League win during his first English season A move to Chelsea followed and the Frenchman once again lifted the Premier League trophy © Provided by Daily Mail A move to Chelsea followed and the Frenchman once again lifted the Premier League trophy

The following season saw FA Cup victory swiftly followed by a starring role in France's World Cup win. Under Sarri, he fought fatigue again and again to help Chelsea to the UEFA Europa League.

Achievements that will be difficult to surpass, but it doesn't necessarily mean Kante is suddenly past his best as he approaches 30.

This argument goes hand-in-hand with the one that suggests the 2019-20 season proves Kante is now an injury liability.

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He suffered five separate injury issues throughout the campaign, including a sprained ankle and hamstring problems.

Kante played in just 22 of Chelsea's 38 Premier League games during Lampard's first season and watched most of the post-restart action from the stands.

Fit enough only to start on the bench in the FA Cup final loss to Arsenal, Lampard looked elsewhere to freshen things up after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's second goal.

a group of people on a stage in front of a crowd: Kante celebrates with Paul Pogba after France's World Cup triumph in Moscow in 2018 © Provided by Daily Mail Kante celebrates with Paul Pogba after France's World Cup triumph in Moscow in 2018 a person posing for the camera: The midfielder played through injury issues to help Chelsea win the Europa League in 2019 © Provided by Daily Mail The midfielder played through injury issues to help Chelsea win the Europa League in 2019

Kante's workload

LEICESTER CITY

2015-16

3,193 minutes in all competitions

Played in 37 of 38 league games

CHELSEA

2016-17

3,556 minutes

Started 35 league games

2017-18

4,207 minutes

Started 34 league games

2018-19

4,185 minutes

Played in 36 league and 10 Europa League games

2019-20

2,303 minutes

Suffered five separate injury issues

But this breakdown in fitness was always going to happen. The mileage Kante had put in over the previous five seasons for club and country was truly extreme.

He missed just one of Leicester's Premier League games during that unforgettable 2015-16 season, starting 33 of the 38 and subbed off just twice in all of those.

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Conte played Kante in 3,139 minutes out of a possible 3,420 in the league during his first season at Chelsea and 2,998 minutes the following season - not to mention a hefty chunk of their Champions League and FA Cup runs.

Sarri flogged his midfield workhorse as well. Kante missed just two league games in 2018-19, starting 36 of the 37 matches he was fit and available for.

Things reached a tipping point when he played the whole of the Europa League final in Baku despite clearly being hindered by a knee injury.

With France, he played every minute of their World Cup campaign in Russia until being taken off 55 minutes into the final when at risk of a second yellow card.

So Lampard really hasn't enjoyed the full benefit of Kante in his midfield, the result of injuries triggered by previous exertions.

A fully-fit Kante will still do a stellar job for Lampard and Chelsea, the manager's warm words from the summer suggesting he will feature regularly in the season ahead.

Nor is there a contractual imperative for Chelsea to offload him. Kante's current deal, worth £290,000-a-week, was signed back in November 2018 and has almost three years to run.

It could be argued Chelsea may want to get Kante off their wage bill but money doesn't exactly seem to be an object after a summer spending spree of more than £200million.

So that leaves the argument of whether Kante remains the right fit in Lampard's midfield.

Given his injury setbacks, it goes without saying really that Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount all enjoyed better seasons in 2019-20.

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a man with a football ball on a field: Jorginho has been playing the deep-lying playmaker role in Lampard's midfield set-up © Provided by Daily Mail Jorginho has been playing the deep-lying playmaker role in Lampard's midfield set-up

There have been questions over whether Kante suits Lampard's 4-3-3 system, which sees him required to perform a box-to-box role instead of shielding the defence.

Kante has usually prospered in a two-man central midfield set-up and when stationed behind someone else. His tireless work rate and ability to cover plenty of ground means he looks far more comfortable.

Instead it's often been Jorginho sitting in and trying to dictate things, with Chelsea achieving some notable results along the way as they finished fourth.

So even when fully fit, Kante is likely to face stiff competition for midfield places and may not necessarily be the automatic pick he was under Lampard's two predecessors.

There's also the possibility that Chelsea's summer spending spree could continue with Declan Rice coming in from West Ham.

a football player on a field: The arrival of Declan Rice from West Ham would offer more direct competition for Kante © Provided by Daily Mail The arrival of Declan Rice from West Ham would offer more direct competition for Kante

The England international, 21, would certainly offer more direct competition for Kante's place at the base of the midfield though some will see Rice as a future centre-half.

But a little bit of competition and rotation may help Kante's body withstand the rigours of what will be an unprecedentedly hectic season followed by the rearranged Euro 2020.

Having played in Chelsea's pre-season friendly at Brighton on August 29, Kante played a prominent part in France's opening UEFA Nations League games against Sweden and Croatia. The treadmill is moving again.

a group of football players on a field: Kante in France colours against Croatia earlier this week as the Nations League commenced © Provided by Daily Mail Kante in France colours against Croatia earlier this week as the Nations League commenced

While the debate over whether Chelsea should sell Kante is a valid one, the reasons why he should remain are more compelling.

Kante's exceptional work in Chelsea's midfield these past few seasons and his unfailing commitment to their cause have made him a firm fan favourite. Few Chelsea fans want to see him leave.

And as the Blues rebuff Conte's wishes for a Kante reunion at Inter, it appears only an exceptional offer - surely in excess of £75m - would persuade them to sell their most industrious player.

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