Chelsea signings have made them Premier League contenders... but N’Golo Kante still holds title key

James Robson
·5-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

If a £200million recruitment drive has given Chelsea the look of potential champions, it is the return to fitness of one of their title-winning veterans that could be key to their ambitions this season.

Frank Lampard was robbed of the services of the N’Golo Kante for much of his first term in charge at Stamford Bridge, with the midfielder’s campaign wrecked by injury.

With Chelsea already missing the inspiration of Eden Hazard – sold to Real Madrid upon Lampard’s arrival – the absence of Kante for long periods only compounded the challenge faced by their newly-appointed manager.

And that’s before taking into consideration the transfer ban he was forced to operate under.

Roll the clock forward and Lampard was allowed to make up for lost time in the transfer market – signing some of the most sought-after talent in Europe, like Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech – while Kante is back dominating midfield in the manner that inspired both Leicester and Chelsea to Premier League titles in back-to-back years.

It’s little surprise then that Lampard is crossing his fingers in the hope the 29-year-old can maintain his fitness.

“I don't want to tempt fate as at the minute he is going well,” he said. “It's a constant one for us where we are managing it.

POOL/AFP via Getty Images
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“When I came in at the start of last season he had been injured from the Europa League final and that just rolled on through the year so we just chased it down from there.

“We have had a better period of him to get him in a place where we are really happy with.

“We're aware and we keep check on his training and numbers and how much distance he travels because every time you train and allow him off the leash in training he makes ridiculous output because of the way he plays. We are very careful with that and at the minute we are in a good place and hopefully that continues.

“Last year he missed 50 per cent of the games with injuries, he had a tough time for different reasons and we are working very hard on that to get him as fit and fresh. Now we are managing his training and game-time, but his levels of performances are really high.”

Restoring Kante to the base of midfield has also had the effect of bringing balance and fluidity to Chelsea’s play, with Mason Mount and Mateo Kovacic leading the press ahead of him in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Newcastle.

It has also led to Jorginho being pushed to the fringes after the Italian was made a central figure under Lampard’s predecessor Maurizio Sarri.

While Lampard believes Kante can play in a more progressive role, it is as the holding midfielder that he is at his most influential.

Lampard added: “I keep saying every time I get asked about N'Golo that I have so much faith in him and the top midfield player that he is in world football. Not just breaking up and winning balls back as we know that is a huge quality of his, but his passing and supporting in midfield and playing in that deeper role now has been a very comfortable transition for him as he's playing. We’re really, really happy with him.”

Lampard was also pleased with a routine win in a potential banana skin fixture at St James’ Park, with Chelsea having to make the long journey to Newcastle for a lunchtime kick-off straight after the international break. Victory was a fifth in succession in all competitions.

"It is the form we needed.” he said. "The players are working hard. It is nice to be in the position that we are, but we won’t be top of the league for long. But it is nice to have amassed those points and gain clean sheets, which we know have been problems for us for different reasons at the beginning of the season and parts of last.

PA
PA

"We need to keep working to keep going. Consistency is what we strive for in a short period of games, we have been consistent and we need to continue.

“Post-international break games are challenging. We were on a good run of form before, but it is important to get the lads back together and get them focused. I thought we saw that in our preparation. I thought we showed that in our performance.

"It is a difficult game on paper to come here and play against a team we lost against last year whilst dominating possession. Today, we dominated possession. We scored our goals, although we could have scored more and we kept a clean sheet. So I can be very happy with that.

"We created some nice chances against a Newcastle team who don’t give you big chances because they defend resolutely around their box but we opened them up enough time to maybe score two or three and at half-time then you can feel much more comfortable.

"I was aware they were still in the game and I thought they came out a bit more positive in the second half. We had to make sure that second one came and when it did, we saw the game out very well."

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