Thomas Tuchel insists he will not risk starting N’Golo Kante in tomorrow’s Champions League quarter-final second leg against Porto unless the French midfielder proves in training this evening he is 100% ready for the game.
Kante suffered a hamstring injury while on international duty with France and was absent as the Blues were beaten 5-2 by West Bromwich Albion a little more than a week ago.
The 30-year-old made a surprise return to the matchday squad for the first leg against Porto but only featured in the final ten minutes of the game.
He was again on the substitutes’ bench for the victory against Crystal Palace on Saturday but did feature in the last half-hour of the contest.
Given the importance of tomorrow night’s game – Chelsea can secure their spot in the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2014 – Tuchel is understandably keen to have Kante in his starting XI.
However, the German coach admits he will not rush the Frenchman back if he is not 100% fit.
“First of all, I was unbelievably happy when he came with us last week [for the first leg] because I didn’t expect it,” Tuchel said. “He was confident enough to return earlier, to help us in the last 15 minutes.
“But the downside of this situation was that he lost a little bit of sleep after the travel issues, had less work in training because he was sitting on the bench and only playing 20 minutes.
“And the next day he suffered from travelling and could not train like he normally trains.
“We decided to play him from the bench against Palace but honestly, the decision I will make tomorrow morning when I see him in training then we will look at the others and how they feel.
“Normally it is hard to imagine this game without NG. But at the same time, we really need to be absolutely careful with him and his situation.
“It is maybe a question for tomorrow, do we want him to start or to finish the game for us because it could go 120 minutes.”
Chelsea are in control of the tie having completed a 2-0 victory in the away leg last week. But Tuchel stressed after the game it was only “half-time” in the quarter-final and that is a point he reaffirmed ahead of tomorrow’s contest at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in Seville.
He said: “It is important that we only focus on us and play the best game possible as this increases the chances to have a good result.
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“In terms of the [first-leg] result, it is easier for Porto because they know they need to score three goals to get through, for them if it is clear.
“For us, if we start in this way [of trying to protect a lead] then we could completely lose our heads. I hope we embrace the challenge and feel it.”