Antonio Conte has admitted that he must plan for the next month without N’Golo Kanté after the midfielder sustained a hamstring injury while on international duty with France, meaning Chelsea may have to improvise in a key area during one of the season’s most hectic spells.
Chelsea must play seven games between this Saturday, when they face Crystal Palace, and their meeting with Manchester United on 5 November. They then adjourn for the next international break but the chances of Kanté returning before then appear slim, with Conte explaining that initial scans had projected an absence of around three weeks.
“We are going to do a scan next week to check his situation, if he’s improving,” Conte said. “But this is a big loss for us because you know very well the importance of Kanté in our team and we don’t have another player with the same characteristics.
“The previous scan [said] maybe around 20, 25 days and in this situation you must pay great attention. For this reason we are going to do another scan after one week to understand the situation well, and if this scan is better than the scan before [then the prognosis may improve] – but for sure it is a big loss and a big problem for us.”
Danny Drinkwater would be an obvious replacement for his former Leicester team-mate but he remains on the sidelines with a calf injury and is yet to make his Chelsea debut. Conte gave no timescale for Drinkwater’s return and said that his lack of midfield options may mean he calls upon youngsters Kyle Scott and Ethan Ampadu.
“We have to approach these seven games in this situation with Kanté [and] without Drinkwater at this moment. We have Cesc Fàbregas and Tiémoué Bakayoko and then young players, Scott and Ampadu, but we must be ready to approach these games to find different solutions and to decide. For sure, it will be very difficult to play with Fàbregas and Bakayoko for seven games in a row, and we also have to hope for no injuries in these games.”
Conte said David Luiz could be deployed in midfield, as he was in the 2-1 win at Tottenham in August, but that he would be hesitant over taking such a decision due to the risk of destabilising his defence. The manager also has a decision to make in attack, where Álvaro Morata will miss out against Palace because of a hamstring problem of his own. Morata should be back for Wednesday’s Champions League game against Roma; in the meantime Michy Batshuayi may step in, although Conte would only say that the Belgium international is “in contention” to play. Eden Hazard could also be deployed up front.
Another Belgian, the 20-year-old winger Charly Musonda, has kept Conte busy this week after an Instagram outburst in which he complained he was getting back “nothing” from the sacrifice and hard work he is putting in at Chelsea. Conte has spoken to Musonda, who made a late appearance from the bench in the opening-day defeat by Burnley but has not played in the league since, and says he needs to prioritise football ahead of social media.
“I spoke with him and I think Charly understood his mistake,” Conte said. “Honestly, he has to continue to work very hard to improve himself, the physical and tactical aspect, but he is working very well. His mind must be focused on the pitch and not on social media. I told him this and my task is to help him always find the right way, not the wrong way.
“I am sure he understood and I don’t see a problem for him. I repeat: he must continue to work in the way he is doing and be focused on the pitch, not social media, because that is not the most important thing for him.”