Return of king Kante

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante will today return to the King Power Stadium for the first time in the Premier League since he left the club in the close season. The Frenchman was the driving force behind Leicester City's incredible title triumph last
Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante will today return to the King Power Stadium for the first time in the Premier League since he left the club in the close season. The Frenchman was the driving force behind Leicester City's incredible title triumph last season.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Former Leicester 'battery' now powering Chelsea's title charge

LONDON • Antonio Conte will hope his Chelsea team have gotten over the disappointment of their 13-match Premier League run ending and beat Leicester City to strengthen their grip on the title.

Today's visit to the King Power Stadium for a meeting with the champions marks Chelsea's first league action since the 2-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur that ended their winning streak. Despite that, they still have a five-point cushion on nearest challengers Liverpool.

Conte had reason to be satisfied with the reaction of his players when they eased past third-tier Peterborough United 4-1 last Saturday to secure a place in the FA Cup fourth round.

But, having seen his side give their rivals hope that the gap can be closed, the Italian taskmaster will be well aware of the impact of dropping more points.

"The Leicester game is important as we must start to win again," the Chelsea manager said yesterday.

"It will be very tough, they have good quality. They have a really good team with very talented players and a great manager."

Today's match will also mark a return for N'Golo Kante, Leicester's ever-running midfield motor last season who has played an equally impressive and important role since moving to Stamford Bridge.

The Frenchman left Leicester for £30 million (S$52.12 million) in the summer after playing a key role in their fairytale title win.

He is set to start against his former team-mates and Claudio Ranieri wants the Leicester fans to give the 25-year-old midfielder a good reception.

Ranieri - named world coach of the year on Monday - could dearly do with Kante as his side are struggling just six points above the relegation places.

"I tried to keep him with all my strength," said the Italian. "I am not surprised how well he has done at Chelsea. He's a very good player."

He holds no grudges.

"It's normal that a young boy, who comes from France and wins the title, goes to a big team," he said. "It's human. He was our battery, with N'Golo we played with 12 players."

Ranieri hopes his side can make it a losing return for the France international.

"I hope our fans give to Kante a warm welcome as he was our champion. It's important to remember what he gave to us," the 65-year-old said.

"We respect Chelsea a lot but we are ready to fight and ready to try to win."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'Return of king Kante'. Print Edition | Subscribe