(Reuters) – Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante will not be involved in the club’s Champions League opener against Zenit St Petersburg, manager Thomas Tuchel said on Monday ahead of their Group H clash against the Russian side.
Kante has been struggling with an ankle injury this season, and was substituted at halftime against Liverpool before the international break when the problem flared up again and he subsequently missed France’s World Cup qualifiers.
Tuchel was hopeful Kante would be back in action against Zenit but now expects the 30-year-old to return for Sunday’s Premier League trip to Tottenham Hotspur.
“N’Golo had two training sessions yesterday and trained again today, but the Champions League game comes a bit too early for him” Tuchel told a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s match at Stamford Bridge.
“We won’t take the risk with him now at this moment of the season. We have decided to give him another load in training tomorrow… (he will) train with us all on Friday to be ready totally for Tottenham.”
Tuchel added Chelsea will also be without American forward Christian Pulisic as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.
Chelsea’s 50 million pound ($69.15 million) signing Ben Chilwell has yet to play this season and Tuchel said the full back must be patient with Marcos Alonso preferred on the left as a wing back.
“It’s been difficult for him, from a Champions League win, then it was individually for him a tough Euros because he felt he could have played a part for England,” Tuchel said.
“When I arrived I felt he was mentally tired which is unlucky because Alonso had a full pre-season. We had some talks with Chilly… He’s in the race now and with a good mental attitude.”
Chelsea were knocked out in the group stages the last time they tried to defend their Champions League crown and captain Cesar Azpilicueta said they wanted to avoid a repeat of the elimination which cost coach Roberto Di Matteo his job in 2012.
“It was a very bad experience, painful because I came from (Olympique de) Marseille and when I arrived to Chelsea just after they won, it was a tough moment to be out at the group stage,” Azpilicueta said.
“I want to help make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
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(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)