Chelsea could remain without N'Golo Kante for Sunday's (5 November) Premier League meeting against Manchester United, with reports suggesting that the influential midfielder believes he has only a 50% chance of being available to feature in a heavyweight clash between title rivals at Stamford Bridge.
Kante has not played for the defending champions since the defeat to Manchester City on 30 September after suffering a hamstring injury while on international duty for France during the first half of their penultimate 2018 World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria in Sofia.
The reigning PFA Player of the Year and 2017 Ballon d'Or nominee missed five successive matches across all competitions, although Antonio Conte hoped to have him back in contention for the Champions League Group C trip to AS Roma on Tuesday evening (31 October).
While Kante returned to first-team training before last weekend's slender win over Bournemouth, he did not even feature on the bench for a heavy 3-0 loss against the Giallorossi and Conte remarked that it would have been dangerous to risk him if he was not fully recovered.
"Kante is obviously the type of player who is very difficult to leave out," he remarked before kick-off. "He just felt he was not 100% and after a big injury I think it is not right to push the player because the player must feel the right feeling and then to play, also because if he risks another injury, it is a disaster for us."
Chelsea supporters were given a further update on Kante's fitness after the full-time whistle at the Stadio Olimpico when the player, according to multiple sources including The Independent, signalled to reporters as he made his way through the post-match mixed zone that he thought he was "50-50" for the visit of Manchester United.
Chelsea's form has fluctuated wildly without Kante in the side, with a two-match winless run followed by three consecutive victories leading up to a wretched, error-strewn outing in the Italian capital. His absence was keenly felt against Roma as Stephan El Shaarawy's brace and a goal from Diego Perotti saw the Blues become the first English team to suffer a Champions League defeat so far this season.
Conte's men can ill-afford another slip up against Manchester United this weekend if they are to stay relevant in the title race, although goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has joined his manager in stressing that Chelsea, whose controversial summer decision to allow Nemanja Matic to reunite with Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford has once again come in for severe criticism, cannot rush Kante back before he is completely ready.
"We know how important N'Golo is for us, he is the guy that brings a lot of balance into the team," he told ESPN. "But we can't push him to play if he doesn't feel ready.
"Danny [Drinkwater] was also out for a long time as well. It means Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas have played a lot of games in midfield and obviously that goes into their legs and it is harder for them to keep up the pressure, especially against the midfield three like Roma had."