N’Golo Kante fears that he could face up to a month out with the hamstring injury he suffered against Tottenham Hotspur which has again laid bare Chelsea’s dilemma over the midfielder’s future.
France international Kane was superb against Spurs on Sunday for 84 minutes until he was forced off with a hamstring injury that head coach Thomas Tuchel revealed felt “pretty strong” and added “so no good news” on Sunday night.
Kante will get a clearer picture of exactly how long he will be out when he receives the results of an MRI scan, but the fear is he will miss at least three to four weeks which could rule him out of Chelsea’s games against Leeds United, Leicester City, Southampton, West Ham United and Fulham.
The potential for a return against Liverpool on September 18 offers Chelsea some encouragement, but Kante’s latest injury underlines the difficulty the club’s owners face over his contract that has entered its final 12 months.
Efforts have been made this summer to try to ease some of the load on Kante. Conor Gallagher, the Chelsea player Tuchel believes is most like the World Cup winner, returned from his Crystal Palace loan and enquiries have been made over midfielders whose signings might have helped the situation.
Tuchel’s view is clear, having in May claimed Kante is Chelsea’s “Mo Salah, our Van Dijk, our De Bruyne. He is our Neymar, our Kylian Mbappe”. But Kante is also one of Chelsea’s highest earners and, aged 31, last season only managed to make 26 Premier League appearances.
With the World Cup on the horizon and top players facing a season like no other with the demands that will be placed upon them, it is already clear that Kante will have to be managed extremely carefully.
Will Chelsea offer him a new contract?
Kante is just a League Cup away from having won every possible trophy at Chelsea since joining the club for £30 million six years ago from Leicester City. Even if he were to leave for free next summer, he will go down as one of the best signings in the club's history.
It seems inconceivable that Chelsea will not try to keep him past his current deal and yet there are big question marks over whether or not Kante can really be handed a new deal, of any longer than another 12 months, on the same terms, given he currently earns around £300,000 a week.
Chelsea’s owners have already started to overhaul the club’s wage bill by changing the contracts that are being offered to players, with big bonuses now paid for playing in at least 60 per cent of games across a season and finishing in the top four. Would Kante accept the new terms or could he be made a special case? These are things we are yet to find out.
Kante as a 'big-game' player?
Just as he was at times saved for Chelsea’s Champions League games two seasons ago, as the the club won Europe’s biggest competition, it may be that Kante will have to be used as a big-game player and rested for those matches in which Tuchel’s team should be able to do without him.
The pre-season tour of the United States, which Kante missed because of his Covid vaccination status, showed just how important he is to the team - particularly in the 4-0 thrashing by Arsenal.
Mateo Kovacic missed the Tottenham game with a knee injury and the fact the Croatian has also suffered problems over the past 12 months makes Kante’s unavailability an even bigger problem for Tuchel.
It does, however, offer an opportunity to Gallagher over the remaining two weeks of the transfer window with the 22-year-old keen to stay and play at Stamford Bridge this season.
Just seven minutes of action as a substitute across Chelsea’s first two games has given interested clubs hope that he might yet be allowed out on loan before the transfer window shuts. But good performances over the next few weeks will put the England international right into Tuchel’s rotation mix.
If Gallagher had any doubts over how many chances he would get at Chelsea, then Kante’s latest injury should have at least put his mind at rest - even if it has reignited a recurring headache for the club.