It’s a problem with which we’re certainly familiar from the last few seasons, but a quick look at Transfermarkt’s injury history data puts it into stark relief. N’Golo Kanté has not been able to stay consistently healthy for the last two years, since the tail end of the 2018-19 season.
While I cannot vouch for or corroborate the accuracy of their data, it does fit the pattern we’ve seen — and certainly stands in stark contrast to Kanté’s Premier League title-winning seasons of 2015-16 and 2016-17, with Leicester City and Chelsea, respectively, when he barely missed a minute, let alone a game.
Of the 306 days Kanté has missed through injury since his arrival in the Premier League in 2015, 272 (or nearly 90%) have come in the last 24 months. Over 200 of those came last season alone, while the other days encompass his recent hamstring injury (the fourth just in the last 17 months) as well as his various knocks leading up to the Europa League final in 2019, in which he played while clearly not fully fit.
That match has become emblematic of Kanté’s plight, as he seemingly keeps coming back too early — we do need him, after all, still and very much! — and thus keeps getting injured. It’s of course not helping that he’s just a few weeks shy of 30th birthday now, and time waits for no man, even a super-man like NG.
Thomas Tuchel, who had been admittedly tracking Kanté long before becoming Chelsea head coach, is clearly aware of this trend and problem as well. As tempting as it might be to play an in-form Kanté (a “gift”, in Tuchel’s words) as much as super-humanly possible, Tuchel has assured he won’t be falling into that same temptation as his predecessors (at least not yet!), and overplay the midfield cheat-code.
“We see his intensity in the physical report after matches and we think maybe they tracked two people and put it into one sheet! It is unbelievable what he delivers in terms of intensity and ball recoveries and of devotion for a group. This is world class, the highest level, and we are very happy he is in our squad.”
(NB. we call them the Kanté Twins, Tommy.)
“[But] he comes from injury. He will not play now all games 90 minutes before we arrive at the international break. We have to manage him.
“We do this now with our physical coaches and we have to take care that he arrives fit until the national break and when he comes back, this is normally the momentum where I hope we can rely on him in every game.
“I am very happy to have him and Kova and Jorginho in defensive midfield. This is exactly the level we need to win games at the highest level and I am super happy with all of them.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Chelsea FC
We have four games until the international break, which is apparently still set to go ahead despite all the various COVID restrictions around Europe and the world, including two massive games in the league, Everton and Leeds United, the second leg in the Champions League Round of 16 against Atlético Madrid, and the FA Cup quarterfinal against Sheffield United. In a perfect Kantévision world, we’d have him playing all those minutes and dominating with a smile on his face.
But that’s not the world we live in, so others will have to step in and step up (which, in fairness, they’ve all been doing under Tuchel thus far).