N’Golo Kante may have extra motivation to impress in the Champions League tonight as he prepares to face potential suitors Real Madrid.
The Chelsea midfielder, 31, has established himself as one of the world’s best at Stamford Bridge but has been linked with the exit door this summer.
Approaching the final year of his contract and with no new deal appearing close at this stage, it will be the Blues’ last chance to receive a fee for the World Cup winner should they wish to offload him.
With Real believed to be considering an approach, we look at what the future holds for Kante.
On the face of it, selling a player who has such an influence on the game would seem a questionable move by Chelsea.
But a combination of both his contract situation and his injury problems this term means it is an option Thomas Tuchel will consider.
A regular feature of the Blues’ midfield in years gone by, Kante has played in 32 of his team’s 50 games in all competitions this campaign.
Only 23 of those have been starts with fellow midfielders Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic performing well in his absence.
That has allowed the West Londoners to prepare for a future without Kante and his loss may not be the blow it would have been in previous seasons.
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Coronavirus and injury issues have disrupted Kante from gaining momentum ever since August.
So much so that there is the feeling that the Paris native has struggled to reach his previously stellar standards when he is on the field.
The statistics show a slight decline in performances with his tackles per game going from 3.31 in 2020-21 to 2.78 this term and interceptions going from 2.48 to 1.48.
Ex-Blues midfielder Emmanuel Petit said of Kante’s recent displays: “I don’t know how many miles he has run over six or seven years in England. He has probably run twice around the world.
“He’s not immortal, the way he plays physically, you can see he’s struggling.
“I wish he could take care of himself a little bit more and be a bit more selfish, maybe think ‘I’m not going to make this run anymore’.”
With his influence seemingly waning, the Blues would be foolish not to listen to offers before potentially losing their once £32million signing for free in a year’s time.
That said, there are not many players in world football that offer what Kante does when he is at the top of his game.
You only have to look at last season’s Champions League semi-final against Real to see what Kante can do.
Two dominant displays in the Blues’ engine room saw him cover every blade of grass to disrupt the LaLiga giants’ rhythm over the 180 minutes, earning him the man-of-the-match award in both games.
Those showings led Tuchel to declare his No7 as the player he has waited his entire career to coach.
The German boss said: “[Kante] is the guy who needs to win trophies and that’s why we are so, so happy that he’s here.
“I’ve been dreaming about this player, fighting for this player at any club I was coaching, so now he’s my player.”
After yet another man-of-the-match award in the final against Manchester City, Kante helped secure his first Champions League crown and a second for the London club.
Kante’s arrivals at Leicester and Chelsea proved transformative for both clubs’ fortunes.
The Foxes signed him from Caen in the summer of 2015 and would go on to win a fairytale Premier League title that season.
It earned him a move to the Blues for the 2016-17 campaign where, after finishing a lowly 10th previously, Kante helped them get back to the top as he collected his second title in two seasons.
Adding an FA Cup, Europa League, Champions League, Club World Cup and even a World Cup with France to his collection since, Real may dream the enigmatic midfielder could have a similar impact at the Bernabeu.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men are charging clear in their pursuit of a 35th LaLiga title but having lost 4-0 to a resurgent Barcelona last month, talk has already turned to stopping a potential shift in power towards the Camp Nou next season.
Defensive midfield is an area Los Blancos will look to strengthen, with highly-rated 22-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni thought to be a prime target.
But with reports indicating the Ligue 1 outfit will demand a fee of up to £67m, fellow France international Kante may be a cheaper but similarly effective option.
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Chance to impress
That makes tonight’s clash at Stamford Bridge and the corresponding away leg the perfect chance to impress in front of his potential new employers.
Of course, he is not short of motivation to help his current club either as they look to defend their status as champions of Europe.
A trademark tireless performance tonight and for the remainder of the competition would further cement his legendary status at Chelsea, regardless if he moves on this summer or not.