Interview

Kante discusses the difficulty of defending titles, Tuchel’s demand for details and Havertz’s potential

Fresh from reaching 200 Chelsea appearances and ahead of potentially making his 150th in the Premier League for the Blues at Anfield tonight, N’Golo Kante insists Liverpool must not be underestimated despite their recent faltering form…

Few in English football have been there and done it so often and so well as Kante. Our midfield maestro has lifted the biggest prizes in the game – two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and, of course, the World Cup with France in 2018 – and played a key role in each of those teams.

He knows the mentality required to follow winning with winning, while also acknowledging that sometimes it just isn’t that easy. In 2020/21, no team is finding that out as much as Jurgen Klopp’s side, the reigning English champions currently 22 points off the pace set by Manchester City.

Kante won back-to-back Premier League titles, albeit with two different clubs at Leicester City and then Stamford Bridge. In the season after lifting the trophy in west London, the Blues finished fifth and 30 points behind City’s 100-point haul so the 29-year-old is well aware of how challenging a title defence can be.

‘It’s difficult to explain,’ he says of Liverpool’s fall from the summit. ‘When you are champions, obviously you enjoy the reward of winning the Premier League and then you go for another season with the same focus, determination and the same demands.

‘Liverpool have had many injuries but it’s still hard to explain why this happened for them because they have lots of good players and a quality squad.

‘We know they have had a difficult time recently but they had a good win in their last game [against Sheffield United]. We expect another difficult game but we go there with a lot of hope and the opportunity to win.’

Part of that hope has come from the upturn in form and fortunes instigated by Thomas Tuchel’s arrival. The Blues are unbeaten in nine matches since the German took charge and have closed the gap to the top four to just a point.

‘He’s had a big impact on us for sure,’ Kante claims. ‘The team has adapted very well with him and I hope we can keep going because it’s been only a bit more than one month so far.

‘He’s very demanding. He asks the team to play in a certain way and insists on some little details but there are many ways to do things.

‘We want to achieve some good things at the end of the season. We are in three competitions and if we can get one or two trophies then it will be very good for us.’

Silverware is significant but milestones matter too and our French enforcer recently brought up his double century in Chelsea blue in the superb win against Atletico Madrid. Not one to dwell too much on individual accolades, Kante is proud nonetheless of such an achievement, becoming the 25th player from overseas to hit the figure.

‘Of course it’s something that I’m proud of, to play 200 games for Chelsea,’ he adds. ‘I came here with expectations and now it’s been nearly five years. I hope we can achieve a lot more good things in the future.’

Another player very much part of the Chelsea future is Kai Havertz and Kante has been impressed with the young German since his move from Bayer Leverkusen last summer, even if the 21-year-old has seen game time limited of late.

‘He has a good talent – good with the ball, calm and he has the ability to make a good last decision in the opponent’s half or box,’ adds Kante. ‘He’s a reliable player for us because we can find him and use his speed and his technique.

‘Obviously he’s young and he was a bit injured recently but he always stays positive and keeps a good work ethic. It’s good to have him in the squad and I’m sure that he will do well in the future.’

Our fixture away at Liverpool last season produced an eight-goal thriller but it was the September 2019 meeting at the Bridge in which Kante scored one of his best goals in a Chelsea shirt, skipping beyond Fabinho and Jordan Henderson before curling an unstoppable rising effort beyond Adrian.

It proved the first of three goals in five games for the midfielder but, despite not having netted since, it is points rather than personal moments of brilliance that he is searching for on Merseyside this evening.

‘It was a good one but it’s difficult to say if it was the best,’ he says of the effort.

‘I was happy at the time because it gave us a chance to get a draw from the game but in the end we lost.

‘It’s always nice to watch a goal like that back but it’s in the past and now I’m looking forward to helping us win. I think that would be much better than a goal and a loss.’

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