Chelsea’s hopes of retaining their European crown went up in smoke on Tuesday evening, as an extra-time strike from first-leg nemesis Karim Benzema secured a 5-4 aggregate victory for 13-time winners, Real Madrid, at the Bernabeu.
After an enthraling encounter at Stamford Bridge less than a week earlier, the Blues had it all to do to overturn the 3-1 scoreline in the second leg, with that deficit eventually proving too great in the Spanish capital despite a valiant effort from the west London outfit.
On a night when so many of Thomas Tuchel’s men were “truly excellent” according to football.london’s Adam Newson, one man who once again dipped below his usually elite standards was diminutive midfielder, N’Golo Kante.
The Frenchman had come under fire following his first-leg performance against Los Blancos, having been hooked at half-time, with that display – and the decision of his manager to so ruthlessly withdraw him – perhaps a sign of his current decline.
It was less than a year ago that the 31-year-old delivered a ‘Man of the Match‘ performance in the Champions League final victory over Manchester City – a display which was labelled “staggering” by club legend Joe Cole – although on current form he is perhaps no longer a nailed-on starter under the former Paris Saint-Germain boss.
In Tuesday’s clash, the former Leicester City man was arguably culpable for both of the La Liga side’s goals, squandering possession in the build-up to Rodrygo’s strike late in the second half, before inexplicably letting the ball run into the path of Eduardo Camavinga as the hosts grabbed a decisive second in additional time.
That display saw the £45m-rated man pick up a disappointing 6.9 match rating – the joint-third worst among his teammates – while he also lost the ball on 16 occasions during his 100-minute outing, as per SofaScore.
He also appeared to be weak in his battles, winning only 50% of his duels up against a Los Galacticos midfield of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro. Elsewhere, he committed two fouls and was dribbled past on one occasion.
On the night, he badly let Tuchel down with his display and that has been a recurring theme recently.
For a player once dubbed “magic” by talkSPORT pundit Ally McCoist, it has been a disappointing few weeks and months, with injury and a loss of form seeing him struggle for “consistency” so far this term, according to his manager.
That being said, Tuchel also insisted that his £290k-per-week asset has “unique, outstanding qualities“, with the German perhaps likely to keep the faith with a player whose French national team boss Didier Deschamps once described as “one of the best players in the world”.
Whether that trust persists in the coming weeks remains to be seen, however, particularly ahead of the upcoming transfer window, amid reports that Paris Saint-Germain are interested in the player with just over a year remaining on his existing deal.
Equally, the Blues seemingly have Crystal Palace loanee Conor Gallagher waiting in the wings for a regular starting berth next term, with Tony Cascarino previously suggesting that the Englishman is “Kante with goals“, owing to his greater attacking thrust.
Should these error-strewn displays continue for the World Cup winner, he may well slide down the midfield pecking order in west London.