I admit, the thought had crossed my mind, too, and a few times, even. Could N’Golo Kanté be on the downward slide? His performances over the past couple years had not been as consistently great as in previous seasons, that much seemed commonly accepted at the very least.
Of course we knew that injuries played a key role in that stretch, with the all-important midfielder unable to truly stay healthy for too long, battling various small problems up and down his previously infallible and indefatigable bits of footballing machinery. A hamstring here, an ankle there, some bruised ribs or even a heart scare thrown in for good measure. Injuries as if Old McDonald were growing them on his farm. Here a knock, there a knock, everywhere a knock knock.
And when he did manage to reassemble himself into good working order, the temptation was too great not to overplay him. And so the cycle continued.
Thomas Tuchel, like those before him, recognized this pattern and has vowed to break it. So far, he’s been true to his word, deploying Kanté strategically and to fantastic effect as against Atlético Madrid. The now 29-year-old has started just six of the twelve games since recovering from his latest injury, and never more than two in a row.
Now, it’s France manager Didier Deschamp’s turn, since we still have internationals for some reason. He’s butted heads with previous Chelsea managers over similar issues. Has he learned his lesson yet?
“[Kanté] is used to playing at a very high level, he does not save himself. I am not unhappy when Tuchel does not start him every game. But everything is about communication. Players can arrive from their club not in ideal shape and then come back in better condition.
“The reverse is also possible. With Kanté, it is more about physical problems that have been ongoing for several seasons. He does not save himself but he is like that, I will not change it. With a little experience, he is learning to manage himself.”
-Didier Deschamps; source: Goal
Doesn’t quite sound like it, unfortunately. Deschamps may recognize the issue, and he undoubtedly does, but he’s still leaving himself wide open to said temptation by letting N’Golo “manage himself”. Players will want to play, even when they shouldn’t. Sometimes, you have to decide for them — to manage them, if you will.
With three games crammed into the two-week international break instead of the usual two, that becomes an even greater concern than usual. France play World Cup qualifiers against Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Bosnia & Herzegovina over the next eight days. They don’t need Kanté for all three. And even if they did, let’s hope they afford him a bit of a breather at some point.