As a winner of trophies for club and country on the domestic and world stage, N’Golo Kante knows what it takes to win football matches when it matters most and the Frenchman views our upcoming run of fixtures as particularly significant in achieving our targets this season.
Liverpool, Tottenham and Bayern Munich are all visitors to Stamford Bridge in three separate competitions over the next few weeks as our campaign resumes with gusto following the inaugural Premier League winter break.
However, first up is a league encounter with Manchester United and the opportunity to increase the gap between us and the Reds to nine points. The inevitable narrative in the build-up may focus on Frank Lampard and his players seeking revenge for a 4-0 opening-day defeat at Old Trafford back in August but Kante insists the only ambition in the dressing room is to solidify our position in the top four.
‘We are having an important time of the season because we are all fighting for the fourth position,’ he said, reflecting on a battle for Champions League qualification that features most teams in the top half of the table at this moment in time.
‘Man United were a bit behind but now they have closed the gap so it’s a big opportunity either for us to keep them behind or for them to close the gap more. It’s an important game for both teams.
‘We all know that Man United at home is a very difficult game, especially after what happened in the first game but we don’t look at this. We just look forward because we want to keep the gap and so that’s why we need to win, not to get revenge.’
Home advantage could be key over the coming weeks and Kante believes the Stamford Bridge faithful can play their part too.
‘It’s important for us and the fans so we need them to keep supporting us as they always do and we will try to give our best to make them proud,’ he added.
The 28-year-old’s boundless energy makes it appear to some opponents like there are two of him on the field, though that physical effort for 90 minutes every week can be draining and he has benefited from the rest that Lampard afforded all his players last week.
With the stakes of top-flight football so high and a European Championship on the horizon in the summer, a mental respite was also most welcome, perhaps even more so than a physical breather.
‘I spent time with family and friends at home in Paris, just chilling,’ he revealed. ‘It’s a nice thing, a new thing in the Premier League and it’s good for the players. I could focus on my family without thinking too much about football.
‘We have come back and tried to get a good fitness, to be prepared for the next game because we need to make sure we get the three points.’
While niggling injuries have disrupted his rhythm at stages during the season, our number seven has retained an integral midfield role under Lampard and has missed just one of our last 14 league matches. Back fit, he is relishing the opportunity to learn under our greatest midfield goalscorer.
‘He was here for a long time as a player and won many trophies but now he is back with the status as manager of Chelsea,’ Kante said of Lampard. ‘We know all about him as a player so when he speaks about my position as a midfielder, to go forward and get the balance in the team, you listen to him.
‘He has good ideas, he wants to play the young players and the older players together to get our target to be in the Champions League. Frank knows how to bring the players to their best and we have time to get what we want from this season.’
There has been good news this week with an agreement reached with Ajax to sign Hakim Ziyech, subject to the player agreeing personal terms, although the Moroccan’s arrival will not be until the summer. In the meantime, Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s return from a long-term Achilles injury has been much anticipated and Kante is just as eager to welcome back the England international.
‘Ruben is a good player. He can bring a lot to the team. He was doing very well last season and it’s good to have him back with us in training. We hope he can help us to achieve what we want.
‘I believe we have the team to get what we want this season - to finish in the top four, get Champions League football next season and why not to win a title as well. We have everything that we need in this team.’
The visit of United on Monday night will come too soon for Loftus-Cheek but there are plenty of key games on the way, including knockout ties in the Champions League and FA Cup. Kante is experienced enough to know that how we fare in these upcoming tests could well define our run-in.
‘These are important games for the rest of our season because in the league there is a lot of competition for the top four. We know that Bayern Munich are a good team so we have to fight to go through from the last-16 and we know all about Liverpool as well.
‘The FA Cup is a beautiful cup in England and it can be another trophy for us. These are important games and we hope to manage them in the best way.’