N’Golo Kante is as fit as any player in the Chelsea squad and ready to play his part in the return to Premier League action this week according to Frank Lampard, whose birthday it is today.
The Blues head to Aston Villa in the Sunday teatime kick-off with the opportunity to increase our buffer in the top four to five points and Lampard’s side will be boosted by the availability of Kante, who has been training with the group for the past couple of weeks.
The Frenchman initially had reservations about the return to training last month and continued to work at home when the rest of the players began non-contact sessions at Cobham in mid-May. However, his concerns about health and safety amid the global coronavirus pandemic were eventually allayed by Lampard, who is delighted to have him back among his options as he prepares his side for our upcoming trip to the Midlands.
‘He’s fit and he’s been training,’ the boss has revealed. ‘He trained for a period with the small socially-distanced groups but he’s been training with us as a group for a while now so he’s as fit as anyone else in the team and he’s naturally fit anyway.
‘It was a difficult situation and I was very sympathetic, as I think the reaction was everywhere. I obviously have to deal with it at close quarters to N’Golo and his feelings. It was very genuine, he wanted to be clear about how it was going to work round the training ground and that’s been sorted out in the short-term - he’s training and he’s happy.’
A happy Kante is what every Chelsea fan wants to see, even if 2019/20 has been a mixed campaign for the midfielder due to a number of fitness issues. Lampard has not had the chance to work with the World Cup winner as much as he would have liked but he emphasised our number seven remains a huge part of future plans.
‘I’ve seen some talk and reports about him and his future at the club,’ Lampard went on. ‘I’ve said it a lot of times that he’s one of the best midfield players in the world. I actually would have loved to have been able to have played with him, the type of player that he is, he has everything.
‘Coming back to Chelsea and getting the opportunity to manage this club, having N’Golo Kante is something that I really wanted to appreciate and work with. This season, unfortunately because of injuries, it’s been tough for N’Golo but it’s nice to see him a little bit fresh.
‘One of the silver linings I suppose of this has been that we’ve managed to get a few players fitter and fresher. N’Golo is certainly so important to us as a team going forward that we need him regularly and hopefully we’ll have that now.’
Another of those silver linings is Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who Lampard reported in his Friday pre-match press conference was ‘looking good for this game', although his fellow Academy graduate Fikayo Tomori is set to miss out with a muscle injury.
Callum Hudson-Odoi is another who has been fighting for fitness in recent weeks after picking up a knock at the start of contact training and Lampard declared the teenager ‘not match fit, albeit he is physically fit now.’
The winger was involved in an incident prior to the training return and that was also addressed by Lampard in his assessment of what the youngster needs to do to force his way into the starting line-up.
‘I’m very happy that in the eyes of the law it’s been sorted out,’ he continued. ‘That was the main concern at first so that’s positive for us and for Callum. We’ve had conversations and the big thing for Callum now is to make sure he learns his lesson from what happened. He broke lockdown, that wasn’t good enough and he’s admitted that so we move on.
‘The next thing is to train consistently at a really high level, to work hard in training every day. He came back from lockdown and got injured pretty early in this period so he’s having to work hard to get fit again.
‘I want to see how he can work on the training pitch to get into this team and perform to the levels we all believe he can.’
Read: Ross Barkley previews the game by discussing form, the top four and playing behind closed doors