Midfielder played a key role in 2-1 win over Leicester on Saturday and Conte is pleased with improvement on the ball
ANTONIO CONTE declared it Hokey Cokey month as he dips his players in and out of a hectic run of fixtures.
But N’Golo Kante looks like having the dubious honour of playing all seven games in 21 days during September as a victim of his own success.
Kante is Conte’s Napoleon. A pint-sized French general on the pitch who leads an army of men twice his size — only without the ego.
The midfielder, 26, played a key role in a third successive victory which gives Chelsea real momentum after a wobbly start to the season.
But his reward will be more long, hard shifts — starting with the return to the Champions League tomorrow.
Conte says he will need to rotate his squad and it is likely Blues fans will get a first glimpse of new signing Danny Drinkwater, plus a few other changes.
But Kante needs a good night’s kip tonight because last season’s double player of the year will be back on duty again with Chelsea eagerly anticipating being back in Europe after a year out.
Chelsea boss Conte said: “Tomorrow, for sure, he can recover really well and then prepare for the game against Qarabag. N’Golo is a very important player for us.
“Before a lot of people told me ‘yes, without the ball he has good stamina and is a good worker’. But now with the ball he has improved a lot.
“I am happy for this because we are working a lot with him. Now I think he is a top player. It was an amazing performance from him. He scored but overall he made a lot of good runs.
“I don’t know if he is world class or not. But N’Golo is a really good player. To be be the best player in the Premier League last season is a great thing. And this season he is confirming it.”
The sight of 5ft 6in Kante heading the ball clear under pressure in the middle of his own area in injury time as Chelsea withstood a late Leicester battering is an unusual but significant sight.
Not that captain and centre half Gary Cahill — who returns from suspension tomorrow — has anything to worry about. But it suggests that the most unassuming player in the pumped up Premier League possesses the all-round game.
Even if not, he gives it a bloody good go all over the pitch.
Goalscoring and defending is great but Kante is a master of the art of tackling. That is his true talent and that is why he will play again against the Azerbaijani side tomorrow night.
Dumping men who weigh several stones more than him on their backsides with impeccable timing and totally within the rules is as much a joy to see as any dipping volley or fancy trick shot.
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Alvaro Morata’s 41st-minute header was well taken but that is the new striker’s job and we didn’t see much of him getting stuck in at both ends.
Kante’s 50th-minute winner against his former club was a classy 35-yard strike taken by a man who knows this patch of grass very well.
Like the player, the shot appeared from nowhere with minimum fuss and just did its job with remarkable understatement.
Jamie Vardy got one back with a 62nd-minute penalty when Thibaut Courtois sent the striker sprawling after he swooped on Cesar Azpilicueta’s back-pass.
But the day belonged to Kante. Having been crowned player of the year by both his fellow pros and the football writers, the Frenchman could appoint himself ‘emperor’ just as Napoleon did.
But he would not dream of it. Instead he led by example — particularly for new midfield partner Tiemoue Bakayoko.
Conte said: “Don’t forget that Baka is only 22, younger than N’Golo. He is very strong without the ball and now he can improve a lot with the ball in the same way N’Golo has.
“Every player can improve. You must have the will to work and improve. Until the end of your career you can always improve.”
Go on then Antonio, make Kante any better and my editor will give you a fiver.