Chelsea’s hopes of a strong 2021/22 campaign have been boosted by several early exits from Euro 2020.
N’Golo Kante walked off the National Arena pitch in Budapest with his head bowed. There was little else he could do in truth. France, the world champions, had been eliminated from Euro 2020 by Switzerland in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Rewind the clock and hour and all appeared well for Les Bleus. They led 3-1 after a Karim Benzema double and a wonderful goal from Paul Pogba. But two Swiss goals in the final ten minutes rocked France and they bowed out of the competition after Kylian Mbappe missed the crucial fifth penalty in the shootout.
“It really hurts,” Didier Deschamps said after the game. “There’s a lot of sadness and, well, there were many things that we did really well in this match, but not everything and if we think too much about this match it won’t help too much.
“This Euro was really difficult, it’s not an excuse, and now there’s the last European champion and the last world champion who have to go home, it hurts but we have to accept it.”
France flew home after the game in Hungary. And from the moment the players departed from the squad yesterday, they were officially on their summer break, but there is unlikely to be too much jet-setting due to differing Covid-19 travel restrictions across the globe.
For the Chelsea trio that were included in the France squad – Kurt Zouma, Olivier Giroud, and Kante – now is the time to rest and unwind.
The last 12 months have been punishing for international players with very little downtime between matches or opportunities to recuperate both mentally and physically.
According to a standard Premier League contract, players are entitled to five weeks paid holiday a year but these are to “be taken at a time or times determined by the club – subject to the club’s first team and any international commitments.”
Importantly, however, clubs can’t “unreasonably refuse to permit the player to take three of such weeks consecutively.” And so that is what Zouma, Giroud and Kante – as well as the Germany contingent of Antonio Rudiger, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner – are likely to take before returning to Chelsea for pre-season.
All six should be back at Cobham by mid-July, fresh and ready to get up to speed with Tuchel’s demands ahead of the 2021/22 campaign.
Yet the player who will likely reap the benefit of a proper break more than any other is Kante, who played every single minute of France’s four games at Euro 2020, the last of which went to extra time.
Kante doesn’t save himself on the pitch. Every ball is chased down, every interception is attempted, every ounce of energy is expended to try to help his side to victory. But now 30 years old, the all-action style that defines the Frenchman’s game has its drawbacks.
Over the last two years, Kante has struggled with hamstring injuries. And, per transfermarkt, he has missed more than two months of football because of them. It’s why throughout the second half of last season, when Chelsea played a game every three days, Kante’s workload was carefully managed by Tuchel.
As and when possible, the Blues head coach gave Kante the afternoon off. For the most part, it worked well, although Kante did still withdraw himself during the penultimate Premier League game of the season after feeling tightness in his hamstring.
Kante was able to start and star in the Champions League final a week and a half later before heading off to represent France at Euro 2020.
There was genuine concern, though, among Chelsea supporters that the midfielder would be run into the ground by Deschamps, who has never rested Kante even when the opportunity has presented itself.
And given France were expected to reach the final of the tournament, the prospect of a weary Kante returning to the Blues for pre-season training in early August appeared a distinct possibility.
Instead, Kante can enjoy a genuine – if still short – break. An opportunity to recharge and a chance for his body to recover from the rigours of the past 12 months. It will be invaluable.
Tuchel has set a target for Chelsea to challenge Man City for the Premier League title next season. In order for that to happen, he’ll need Kante available and at his best for much of the campaign. Thanks to Switzerland, there’s every chance of that happening.