Thomas Tuchel says he will continue hugging N’Golo Kante if the Chelsea star keeps producing man-of-the-match performances.
Kante, 30, has flourished in the absence of Mateo Kovacic, forming a creator-destroyer partnership with Jorginho in the heart of Tuchel’s midfield.
In tandem the duo have been the vital artery of Chelsea’s play recently, culminating in Kante executing a man-of-the-match display against Real Madrid last week.
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Under the tempestuous Valdebebas clouds, the Blues masterminded a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their semi-final clash, sealing a precious away goal.
Christian Pulisic produced the goods in the opening 14 minutes, but it was Kante’s terrier-like industry that caught the eye, with the Frenchman producing a high-octane performance that quelled Real’s attacking rhythm and prevented their famed midfield trident from linking fluidly.
In fact, Kante’s enterprise in the Spanish capital transcended his defensive qualities, with the pint-sized pivot not only contesting in more duels (21) than any player on the pitch that night, but also completing the most take-ons (six), showcasing the many strings to his bow.
Such form has naturally elicited high praise from his manager, who has revealed he can’t stop hugging the “shy” midfielder because of his recent performances.
“He needs to accept that I will cuddle him, I do this a lot,” Tuchel said in his pre-Real Madrid press conference. “He is a nice guy, almost a shy person. He is quiet, he likes his own quality time and he is not loud.
“I see him smile a lot, I see him interact with everybody but on his own terms, very shy and polite but I am so happy that players like him exist. It is a pleasure to watch.
“What he is doing with his mentality, a real helper always gives everything to help anybody on the pitch as such a nice, humble and quiet guy. He is the guy you need to win trophies. That is why I am so, so happy that he is here.
“I have dreamed about this player, fighting for this player at any club I was coaching at and now he is my player. He has won many trophies except for the Champions League. I am sure he will be doing everything to get this trophy.
“For me, he is an example, an unbelievable input for any team in the world. He is key; he will be key tomorrow.”