Thomas Tuchel says it’s a ‘miracle’ Chelsea have secured a third place finish in the Premier League despite missing ‘key, key, key’ player N’Golo Kante for much of the season.
Kante returned to Tuchel’s starting line-up for Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Leicester on Thursday night after missing the previous four games with the latest in a series of injury problems.
The Frenchman faces an uncertain future at Stamford Bridge with his contract expiring next summer, but Tuchel compared him to Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne in terms of importance to the team during his post-match press conference.
“I think he’s our key, key, key player,” he said. “But key, key, key players have to be on the pitch and he’s only played 40 per cent of the games, so maybe it’s a miracle that we come in third place.
“He’s our Mo Salah, he’s our Van Dijk, he’s our De Bruyne, he’s our Neymar, he’s our Kylian Mbappe.
“He’s just that player, the guy who makes the difference and if you only have him 40 per cent of the time, that’s a huge problem.
“Given that percentage it is perhaps a miracle of how consistently we have produced results and it puts everything into perspective because I saw Liverpool last season without Van Dijk and they struggled a lot.
“You see the difference. N’Golo is our key player and he has to be on the pitch.”
Kante has suffered various injury issues this season, including groin and knee problems, and asked if he thinks Chelsea can find a solution, Tuchel said: “I hope so. It’s difficult to live because it is important for him to be there and have the rhythm.
“I think he played well tonight but he can play so much better. But when did he start his last game? It was weeks ago.
“He constantly starts to pick up some rhythm, and once he gets some rhythm he gets injured a bit and he’s out again.”
Tuchel referred to his role in Chelsea’s Champions League triumph last season, saying: “Last year in the Champions League they gave him the trophy before the game.
“It was clear he would be man of the match. And this guy who becomes man of the match in every Champions League game is only there for 40 per cent of the games and that’s huge for us.
“We are doing everything to solve it and so is he.
“I don’t blame him. It’s just a concern and it’s a fact that we miss him a lot because he brings something unique to world football and he has that ability to uplift everybody and to make the difference.
“He’s one of the best midfielders in the world.”