N'Golo Kante has tested positive for COVID-19, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has confirmed.
Kante will miss Chelsea's Champions League tie against Juventus on Wednesday in addition to their Premier League game against Southampton on Saturday. The UK requires anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus to isolate for 10 days which would suggest it would be unlikely that he would be able to join up with the France squad for their upcoming games, which include a UEFA Nations League semifinal against Belgium.
Tuchel did not address Kante's vaccination status in his press conference ahead of the game with Juventus, for which Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount and Reece James are also missing with injuries. Kante had played an hour in Chelsea's defeat to Manchester City on Saturday following which his manager said the midfielder had been ill. He has also missed games this season due to a groin injury.
Asked to address vaccination rates within his squad, Tuchel said: "I don't know the percentage actually. We are only a reflection of society and the players are adults and have a free choice if they want to get vaccinated or not. We should accept it.
"This is more or less everything I can say. I know the situation is far from over and every time someone gets it here or from our group it makes you very aware it's not over. I hope it gets as small as possible but I clearly don't have the solution to this."
As to whether he would be pushing for his players to get vaccinated, he added: "It would be easy to say yes [players should get vaccinated] and get the applause for lots of people but do I have the right to say it? I'm not so sure. I can make the decision for myself... Vaccination seems to be a proper protection, I am vaccinated, but I don't really see myself in the proper position to speak out with recommendations. That would go too far. I'm a football coach, I'm not 100 percent expert in this.
"Everyone is adult enough, we live in a free society. People can take their choices.
"We are not angry at N'Golo. I'm concerned about him, I'm worried about him like I am my injured players who take a kick in the game."
How will Chelsea cope without Kante?
In all likelihood the Blues should only be missing Kante for two games and neither of their opponents should be insurmountable without one of the world's best midfielders, not least because they have two top tier alternatives in Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, both of whom have excelled alongside the Frenchman and when paired together in a double pivot. Against Manchester City all three played as Chelsea switched from a 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 to a more pure 3-5-2, though ultimately that was an approach that left them with precious little creativity in the final third.
Certainly it will be a cause of real disappointment for Tuchel, who speaks glowingly of Kante at every opportunity and has built his side around the dynamism of the No.7 with and without the ball. Those facets could be vital against Juventus, whose midfield would struggle to keep up with Kante at full pelt. Kovacic can beat his man whilst Jorginho is as good a table setter as there is in world football, it's just that neither of them are quite the best central midfielder in the world. Few would argue against giving that title to the diminutive dynamo so beloved of neutrals.
Though it is fair to say Chelsea will be alright without him, their past results would appear to suggest that they will not be quite as good. Since Tuchel's appointment his team have a 17-5-2 record in Champions League and Premier League matches when Kante plays and a 4-2-3 record when he doesn't. In nine games without him they have conceded eight goals (admittedly five of those did come in one thrillingly bizarre hammering at the hands of relegation-bound West Bromwich Albion), one fewer than they have let in over 24 matches with him.
Against a Kante-less version of Tuchel's Chelsea opponents average 0.79 expected goals (xG) as opposed to 0.73 when they face him. He is much more than just a defensive midfielder but Kante is also the best defensive midfielder Chelsea have. Juventus and Southampton will feel that bit more confident without him on the field.