Tuchel gives verdict on Chelsea's defeat to Man City
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N’Golo Kante will miss Chelsea’s Champions League game against Juventus on Wednesday after testing positive for coronavirus. Kante will not play any part in Turin after contracting COVID-19, which is just the latest in a succession of setbacks for the diminutive midfielder.
The Frenchman’s season has been hindered by injury, with a groin problem severely limiting his time on the pitch for Thomas Tuchel’s side.
Kante is yet to play a full 90 minutes in any competition this season, but was extremely influential in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Tottenham on September 19.
The 30-year-old came off the bench at half-time with the score at 0-0 and scored to help inspire a crushing victory in the London derby.
Tuchel could now be forced to cope without him entirely for the next 10 days, depending on when his symptoms started, or the date that he returned a positive test.
“N’Golo unfortunately tested positive and he needs to quarantine and follow the government protocols,” Tuchel said in a press conference on Tuesday.
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“He was not in training today and, of course, not in the group.”
While Kante’s absence is clearly a blow for Chelsea ahead of what appears to be their toughest test in the Champions League group stages, it could provide an opportunity for others.
Tuchel is likely to start Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in central midfield in his typical 3-4-2-1 formation against Juve.
But with Reece James, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic also ruled out of the game, his options are further limited.
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That means summer signing Saul Niguez could find himself involved in Wednesday’s 8pm kick-off.
Saul has so far made his two appearances for Chelsea since his season-long loan move from Atletico Madrid, which includes an option to buy for £30million, went through on transfer deadline day.
It is fair to say his debut could hardly have gone any worse, with the Spanish international substituted at half-time after an error-strewn performance against Aston Villa.
Ultimately no harm was done, as Chelsea went on to win the game 3-0, but Saul’s confidence certainly took a hit.
The 26-year-old midfielder had a better second showing against the same opposition in the Carabao Cup, but he is yet to convince in a blue shirt.
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That fact is clear considering Chelsea’s last game against Manchester City: Tuchel changed his normal formation to field three central midfielders and then opted to replace Kante with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, not Saul, in the second half.
The Blues suffered their first defeat of the season against City but Loftus-Cheek’s bright performance could have put him ahead of Saul in the pecking order.
Saul has shown over several seasons for Atletico Madrid that, at his best, he offers a combative and intelligent presence in the centre of the pitch.
Even if he doesn’t get the chance to play against Juventus tomorrow, opportunity could knock in the Premier League home game against struggling Southampton on Saturday.
After that there is an international break, which will give Kante time to recuperate and possibly shut the door in Saul’s face.
This week could therefore be crucial to Saul’s Chelsea career – and his chances of sealing a permanent switch to west London.
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