Chelsea’s coaching staff are confident N’Golo Kanté will be fit to play in the Premier League game against Manchester United on Sunday but must now convince the player that he is ready to return after almost four weeks out with a hamstring injury.
The France international, who hurt his thigh in the national team’s World Cup qualifying win in Bulgaria, has been back in first-team training since the end of last week and was close to playing in the damaging 3-0 defeat by Roma on Tuesday. However, the player had made clear his reservations about returning too soon and was ruled out on the day of the match. “N’Golo is important for us and brings a lot of balance into the team,” said the goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. “But you cannot push him if he does not feel ready.”
The player indicated, when asked post-match at the Stadio Olimpico, that he felt it would be touch and go as to whether he can play at the weekend, though the coaching staff believe he will be ready to return against José Mourinho’s side after a six-match absence. Chelsea have conceded 11 goals in that time, and kept only one clean sheet, to make clear how integral he is to the set-up, with the hope now that Kanté trains normally over the remainder of the week and declares himself fit for Sunday.
He would come up against his former midfield partner Nemanja Matic as Chelsea confront a player sold controversially to United over the summer. Matic, a key member of the side who claimed two Premier League titles in three years, had initially asked to leave in the summer of 2016 but, having been persuaded to remain, had offered little indication he would be willing to sign a new contract at the club.
Chelsea duly granted his request to leave this year after he made clear a reluctance to go on the club’s pre-season tour of Singapore and China, although there was considerable surprise that they sanctioned a move to United, for around £40m, which effectively strengthened their direct rivals. “Nowadays if a player wants to go to a team, then he has … I don’t want to say the power, but if he has a strong will to leave and join another team then it is hard for the club,” said Courtois. “You cannot just ignore him and say: ‘You cannot leave’ because then you have a disappointed player who won’t play at his best. So obviously, for us, you give a player to another big team, but they are choices that are made in football.
“We know Nemanja’s qualities. He is someone who, last year, gave us the balance as well. He decided to go to another team, so we won’t live in the past. Our midfield is very good, we have very strong players, so I don’t know if we miss him. But if you have two injuries in midfield then, of course, you can say we miss Nemanja because he is another quality player and he is doing well in Manchester.”
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