October 3, 2023
Why N’Golo Kante must be dropped for Real Madrid as Tuchel’s clear Chelsea choice revealed

The Chelsea writers have come together to discuss an important matter ahead of the Champions League semi-final. Different opinions from each writer, tell us who you agree with.

There an elephant in the room, and whilst some of us may not want to speak on such a hard topic, and we must.

A fan favourite has been summoned to the Football London’s Chelsea debate room. He doesn’t have a bad bone in his body and works harder than anyone else on the team. If you haven’t quite guessed who it is yet, I’ll give you another clue. He is also a World Cup winner.

N’Golo Kante, take a seat!

The Blues go into their Champions League clash against Real Madrid, and the question is, ‘should Kante start?’ The season has been up and down for our beloved Frenchman. Following his performance against Brentford, it’s time to have an open, honest conversation. Here’s what we all have to say.

Anita Abayomi: Give him a break.

I love Kante as much as everyone else does. He is unintentionally hilarious, and he works extremely hard off the pitch. He seems like an absolute pleasure to be around, and it’s unfortunate how his season has panned out. He has missed a number of games due to groin and knee injuries and has suffered from Covid-19 twice. Talk about an on and off season. I can’t fault him for the subpar performances that he has given because Kante, at 50%, is as good as any world-class midfielder.

With that being said, let’s give him a break. He doesn’t need to start against Real Madrid, does he? It’s okay to admit that he’s had a rough patch of games, but we mustn’t kid ourselves. He is not yet back to the insane form we saw in 2021. The Frenchman was completely unplayable from when Thomas Tuchel arrived at the Bridge. A couple of injuries later, he is understandably still working towards replicating that form. Yes, he was the man of the match in last season’s semi-final fixtures against the Los Blancos. He caused problems on the pitch for every single player in white.
This time they will see him coming. I’ve not known Real Madrid to make the same mistakes twice. We can throw Mateo Kovacic in the mix, and we still are as effective.
Adam Newson: The Bigger debate is…

It’s the Champions League. It’s the quarter-finals. It’s Real Madrid. Of course, you start Kante in the Chelsea midfield. Yes, the Frenchman hasn’t been at his best for much of 2022 – as discussed in more detail here – but he proved spectacularly last season that in the biggest games, he can produce his biggest performances.

The Madrid midfield of Casemiro, Toni Kroos, and Luka Modric is exceptional and packed full of technical quality and experience. Yet Kante shut them down almost single-handedly in the semi-finals last year, and a repeat performance at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening would go a long way in ensuring the Blues advance into the last four this term.

So for me, there is no question that Kante starts. The bigger debate is who you partner him with, given Jorginho was rested at the weekend against Brentford, and Kovacic has been one of Chelsea’s standout performers this season. I think that is the big dilemma that Tuchel faces. I doubt he is even giving a second thought to having Kante in his starting XI.

Bobby Vincent: Do not experiment!

There’s no doubting that Kante has not been himself in recent games, but right now is not the time to drop him. Chelsea’s clash with Real Madrid on Wednesday is the type of match you want the midfielder to be involved in.

He showed last season in the second leg against Madrid at Stamford Bridge how he can hurt the Spaniards and did so with a sensational performance. Now is not the right time for Tuchel to experiment with changing the personnel in the midfield. Kante usually showcases his generational talent in matches such as the one coming up on Wednesday.

Daniel Childs: There’s a wider issue for Kante’s future.

It almost feels blasphemous to vaguely criticise Kante given how ridiculous a player he has been for Chelsea since he signed for a stupendously low fee of £34m in 2016. Why wouldn’t you play Kante in a Champions League tie against one of the best sides in Europe? At any moment, Kante could go supersonic and propel Chelsea to another European crown. But as my fellow writers have alluded to, the Frenchman has been subpar for a majority of this season.

What was probably indicative of that was how much of a passenger he was in the second half against Brentford when Chelsea’s whole structure collapsed in monumental fashion, and the outstanding man could not alter the flow to prevent the game from spiralling out of control. I expect N’Golo will be in the starting lineup on Wednesday. Tuchel will need his energy to counteract Madrid’s technically superb midfield, including Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and Casimero.

In last year’s second leg, his own tenacious bursts forward created the space for both goals that got Chelsea to the final. But this debate highlights a wider, more serious question around Kante this summer. With all of his injury issues, his levels of consistent performance decreasing, and only one year left on his deal, in 2022, is it time to part ways?

The idea I’m even thinking about a) not starting him and b) selling him is quite staggering. I still lean towards Kante over Jorginho based on mobility, danger awareness, and intercepting. The real key in Tuchel’s midfield is starting Kovacic, who’s been one of Chelsea’s standout performers this season.

What do you think…?

Adam would love to see Kante start but is more concerned with who partners him in that midfield. Anita and Daniel have given him the answer that Kovacic needs to be on the starting lineup. The Croatian is almost just as dynamic as Kante and could bring something different to the squad than what we saw against Brentford.

However, Bobby is dead set against Tuchel, trying something new. The midfield duo that faced the Spaniard last season had Kante and Jorginho. It worked last time, so why bother switching it up?
If there is one thing that all the writers can agree on and probably the entire Chelsea fanbase, it’s that the beloved N’golo Kante is a force to be reckoned with when he’s at his best.

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