Graham Potter can finally unleash Chelsea’s own Kylian Mbappe vs Everton after seven month agony
The sight of N’Golo Kante walking gingerly off the Stamford Bridge pitch had become all too familiar for Chelsea supporters. But the frustration and disappointment were never diminished. The only question was how long would it be this time? Not even the most pessimistic of fans would have predicted seven months.
Much has changed at Chelsea in that time – and in the wider football world. Thomas Tuchel has gone. Graham Potter has arrived. A World Cup has been held and the tournament subsequently expanded. The Blues have struggled desperately in the Premier League. A place in the Champions League quarter-finals has been secured.
All the while Kante has been undertaking a drawn-out recovery after undergoing hamstring surgery in October. Much of the unseen work, the tedious rehabilitation sessions, was undertaken at Cobham. Only in early January did the 31-year- old take his first steps back out on the grass at Chelsea’s training centre – and they were tentative at best.
The eight weeks that followed were carefully managed; Chelsea could not afford Kante to suffer a setback. The club has been patient with the midfielder’s comeback, something which hasn’t always been the case.
Previous head coaches have rushed the Frenchman back from injuries and it has been to Kante’s detriment. There is confidence this time will be different; that Kante has been meticulously handled with care. He returned to full training ahead of the game against Leeds United but did not feature.
He was not involved in the crunch Champions League game against Borussia Dortmund nor the visit to former club Leicester City on Saturday. “We’re aiming maybe for Everton,” said Potter last week . Naturally, that resulted in excitement building within the Chelsea fanbase. The sight of Kante in the matchday squad – even if he doesn’t come off the substitutes’ bench – this weekend will be a huge boost heading into the international break.
It is easy to overlook that Potter hasn’t been able to select Kante during his Chelsea tenure. The World Cup winner is a true game-changer, a midfielder who can transform a good team into an excellent one, as he did during the Blues’ run to the 2021 Champions League under Tuchel. The hope is Kante has a significant role to play in this season’s competition, which he has yet to feature in due to his injury.
Potter’s side will play their Champions League quarter-final after the international break, but they will only discover their opponents when the draw takes place this Friday. No club will be viewed as insurmountable with an entirely fit and fresh Kante in the Chelsea midfield; let’s not forget that Tuchel compared the midfielder’s importance to that of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar last year .
And the prospect of the French star dovetailing with club-record signing Enzo Fernandez, who arrived in January from Benfica, is a tantalising one. The issue of Kante’s contract remains – his current deal expires in the summer and while talks over extending his time at Stamford Bridge have taken place, nothing has yet to be signed.
That will need to be addressed and a resolution found, but the most important thing is getting Kante back out on the pitch. And after seven long months, that moment may finally arrive on Saturday