Thomas Tuchel says Chelsea desperately need a fully-fit N’Golo Kante if they are to have any chance of winning silverware next season.
The Blues secured third place in the Premier League after drawing 1-1 at home to Leicester on Thursday but will finish the campaign empty-handed having lost two cup finals on penalties to Liverpool and in the quarter-finals of the Champions League to Real Madrid.
The French midfielder made his first start in almost a month against the Foxes having come off the bench in the second half of last Saturday’s FA Cup final and Tuchel said not being able to call on his services for much of the season has really hurt his side.
Kante has struggled with a variety of injuries and only completed 90 minutes 11 times in all competitions in what has been a year of frustration for the World Cup winner.
“He is our key, key player, but key players need to be on the pitch and he has played only 40 per cent of the games,” boss Tuchel said.
“He is our Mo Salah, he is our van Dijk, our De Bruyne, our Kylian Mbappe, our Neymar – this is the guy who makes the difference and if you only have him 40 per cent of the time it is a huge problem.
“Given that percentage it is maybe a miracle how consistently we produce results.
“It’s put everything into perspective, because I saw Liverpool last season without van Dijk and they struggled heavily and you see the difference (in them) now.
“N’Golo is our key player and needs to be on the pitch.”
The 30-year-old is out of contract at the end of next season but any negotiations about his future cannot take place until the club’s sale to the group led by American Todd Boehly is officially rubber-stamped.
Tuchel is hopeful with there being no major international tournaments this summer it will benefit Kante going into the new campaign as the club look for ways to keep him on the field.
“I hope we can because it’s hard to live with because it is important for him to have the rhythm,” Tuchel said.
“I thought he played OK (against Leicester) but he can play so much better, but when was the last game he started? It was weeks ago. He gets that rhythm and then he is injured again.
“Last year in the last five matches of the Champions League he got the (man of the match) trophy.
“I think at the final they handed him the trophy even before the match because it’s clear when he plays he gets man of the match.
“But we have this guy who gets man of the match in every Champions League game, but he is only here before 40 per cent of the matches and this is huge for us, we must do everything to solve it.
“I don’t blame him but it is a concern because we miss him a lot.
“He brings something unique in world football. He has that ability to lift everybody up and make a difference but he can only do that when he is on the pitch.
“He is one of the very best midfielders in the world, but because he is not that obvious and not in the spotlight he is more important in the team because guys like N’Golo with his character are what successful teams need.
“That is why we love him so much and everyone wants to play with him.”