Ruben Loftus-Cheek was named in Chelsea's starting line-up for the first time in 13 months when the Blues visited Aston Villa in the Premier League on Sunday.

The England international ruptured his Achilles in May 2019 and had not featured across the 2019-20 campaign.

In the Blues' first game back following the coronavirus-enforced break, Frank Lampard chose Olivier Giroud in attack ahead of ex-Villa loanee Tammy Abraham.

Midfielder N'Golo Kante was also in the starting line-up, having been out since February because of a groin injury.

Villa were unchanged from the side that drew 0-0 with Sheffield United on Thursday.

The trip to Villa Park was the 100th game of Lampard's managerial career, with the former Blues midfielder having won 45 of his first 99 in charge of Derby County and Chelsea.

Frank Lampard hopes N'Golo Kante stays at Chelsea for years to come and admits he "would have loved" to play with the French midfield dynamo.

Blues manager Lampard moved to assure Kante he sees him as an integral part of Chelsea's future after reports the club could sell him to raise transfer funds.

A Premier League winner with Leicester City in 2016 and Chelsea a year later, Kante turned 29 in March and will be determined to re-establish himself in Lampard's team in the coming weeks.

He has made just five appearances for Chelsea in 2020 after suffering hamstring and groin injuries, and it appeared at one stage his season might be over.

That was not down to injury, but because Kante was reportedly so concerned by the coronavirus pandemic he was said to be happy to train at home and sit out the rest of the campaign.

Kante has been back within the Chelsea camp in the last fortnight, however, and could face Aston Villa on Sunday, with Lampard saying he is "as fit as anyone in the squad".

Discussing Kante's wariness about coming back, Lampard said: "It was very genuine, he wanted to be clear about how it would work around the training ground. It's been sorted out in the short term and he's training and he's happy.

"Also in terms of N'Golo, I've seen some talk and reports about him and his future at the club.

"I've said before about N'Golo, [he is] one of the best midfield players in the world. I actually would have loved to play with him, the type of player he is. He has everything, and coming back to Chelsea and managing this club, having N'Golo Kante, is something I really wanted to appreciate and work with.

"This season unfortunately it's been tough due to injuries to N'Golo, but it's nice to see him a little bit fresh.

"One of the silver linings I suppose to this has been we've managed to get a few players fit and fresher, for whatever reason. N'Golo is so important to us as a team going forward, we need him regularly and hopefully we'll have that now."

While Kante has three years remaining on his Chelsea contract, both Willian and Pedro are set to leave Stamford Bridge within weeks.

The attacking pair could sign short-term extensions to see them through to the end of the extended Premier League season, given the COVID-19 break has pushed back the end of the campaign to late July.

Alternatively, they could walk away at the end of June when their present terms expire.

Former Chelsea and England star Lampard would trust either player, if he needs them over the remaining weeks of the season, and they could have a part to play at Villa Park.

"I have no worries about motivation. They are both top-class professionals, have been great servants to the club," Lampard said. "Every time they pull on a Chelsea shirt they'll give everything as they have done for years."

Lautaro Martinez has been tipped to make the move to Camp Nou.

The Inter forward is at the top of Barcelona's list of targets as the Spanish giants eye a long-term replacement for veteran Luis Suarez.

But Inter are not making things easy for Barca.

 

TOP STORY – INTER NOT BUDGING OVER MARTINEZ

Inter are standing firm over Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez, according to Sky Sport Italia.

LaLiga champions Barca are determined to sign the Argentina forward but Inter are unwilling to budge on their demands – either pay his €111million release clause or splash €90-95m plus a player chosen by the Serie A club. 

The same network claims Inter loanee  Alexis Sanchez  could renew his loan deal from Manchester United.

 

ROUND-UP

Inter are interested in Real Madrid full-back Achraf Hakimi, reports Calciomercato. Achraf, who has spent the past two seasons on loan at Dortmund, has been linked with the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and others. Inter are admirers of the Morocco international but remain some way off luring him to Milan.

- The Times says Chelsea are prepared to sell star midfielder N'Golo Kante to raise funds for extra transfers. Madrid are thought to be keen on the Frenchman as Chelsea look to sign Leicester City full-back Ben Chilwell and Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz.

Napoli have reached a "total agreement" with Lille for defender Gabriel Magalhaes, says Footmercato. The Brazilian centre-back has also been linked to Everton and Tottenham.

- Sky Sport Italia journalist Gianluca Di Marzio reports Fiorentina are battling Milan and Everton for outgoing PSG defender Thiago Silva, who is a free agent.

Milan have been mooted as the most likely destination for Naby Keita as Liverpool consider selling the former RB Leipzig midfielder, according to Milan Live.

David Alaba to leave Bayern Munich? The Telegraph claims the Bundesliga champions are open to a sale, alerting the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, United and PSG.

Chelsea thrashed QPR 7-1 in a friendly match on Sunday, with midfielders Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Billy Gilmour each scoring twice.

Further goals from Mason Mount, Willian and Olivier Giroud helped Frank Lampard's side to an emphatic win at Stamford Bridge as preparations for the Premier League's return continue.

Loftus-Cheek has not made a senior competitive appearance for Chelsea since last season due to a ruptured Achilles sustained last May.

N'Golo Kante started the match against the Championship side, the France star having only resumed team training this week.

Chelsea's win came after a 1-0 defeat of Reading at their Cobham training base in a previous behind-closed-doors friendly.

The Blues are due to resume their league campaign next Sunday against Aston Villa at Villa Park.

Lampard's men were fourth in the table when the competition was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante returned to contact training with his team-mates on Tuesday.

Due to personal concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, Kante was given permission to train at home when Chelsea were called back to their Cobham training base in May.

The World Cup winner was at one point reportedly happy to sit out the remainder of the season, with the Premier League due to resume on June 17.

However, Frenchman Kante was back in training with the main group ahead of Chelsea's upcoming meeting with Aston Villa a week on Sunday.

Kante has only made five appearances for the Blues in 2020, having suffered hamstring and groin issues prior to the suspension of major football across Europe.

Frank Lampard's side sit fourth in the Premier League with nine games remaining and will take on Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals on June 28.

The second leg of Chelsea's Champions League last-16 tie against Bayern Munich, who won the first encounter 3-0, is expected to take place following the conclusion of the domestic season.

Milan Skriniar has established himself as one of the best defenders in the world since moving to Inter from Sampdoria in 2017.

Manchester City, Manchester United and Barcelona have been linked to Skriniar.

Real Madrid are also reportedly interested amid uncertainty over captain and defender Sergio Ramos.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID INTERESTED IN SKRINIAR

Real Madrid are eyeing a move for Inter defender Milan Skriniar, according to Diario Gol.

With uncertainty over the future of captain Sergio Ramos, Madrid are looking to bolster their defence at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly and RB Leipzig's Dayot Upamecano have been linked but an exchange deal sending James Rodriguez plus cash to Inter could see Skriniar join Madrid.

ROUND-UP

- Marca claims Madrid forward Gareth Bale is a priority for Newcastle United's prospective new owners. Newcastle have also reportedly identified former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino as their next head coach and that could convince Bale to return to the Premier League.

Manchester City are monitoring Lyon sensation Houssem Aouar, says L'Equipe. The 21-year-old is valued at around £44million (€50m) by Lyon, who are prepared to cash in. Aouar has been linked to the likes of Liverpool and Juventus.

- Gazzetta dello Sport reports Napoli want at least £44m (€50m) for Hirving Lozano, who is attracting interest from Everton.

- The future of Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be decided in 20 days, according to Calciomercato. As Ibrahimovic prepares to return to Milan following the coronavirus pandemic, the Rossoneri want to define the 38-year-old's future as they plan ahead amid links to Madrid's Luka Jovic.

Chelsea will make a move for West Ham midfielder Declan Rice if they lose N'Golo Kante, says The Mirror. Madrid are reportedly tracking Kante.

- L'Equipe claims Manchester United are keeping tabs on PSG veteran Edinson Cavani. The soon-to-be free agent has been tipped to join Atletico Madrid, while an MLS switch is also an option for the veteran forward.

Leroy Sane's move to Bayern Munich appears back on, while Real Madrid are chasing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Sane was linked with a switch to Bayern last close-season but ended up staying at Manchester City.

It appears that move could be back on, while Madrid are maintaining interest in Arsenal star Aubameyang.

 

TOP STORY – SANE IN FRESH BAYERN TALKS

Sane's new agent is in fresh talks with Bayern Munich, according to The Sun.

The Germany attacker was the subject of transfer speculation last before the 2019-20 campaign, but then suffered a serious knee injury in August.

Bild reported on Tuesday that Sane believes he could win the Champions League with Bayern.

ROUND-UP

- Real Madrid are interested in Arsenal's Aubameyang, according to Sport. The report says Barcelona are also keen to land the forward if they cannot sign Inter star Lautaro Martinez.

- LaLiga's 'big two' also reportedly want N'Golo Kante. However, Goal report the midfielder wants to stay at Chelsea unless he is forced out.

- With Diego Costa's future uncertain, Atletico Madrid may be looking for a forward. AS report Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette, who is contracted until 2022, is on the list of possible reinforcements for Los Colchoneros.

- Chris Smalling appears likely to return to Manchester United from his loan spell at Roma. Calciomercato believe the Serie A club are already looking at alternatives, with Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen – out of contract at season's end – being considered.

- Olivier Giroud, another player out of contract at the end of the season, seems set to leave Chelsea. La Gazzetta dello Sport claim the striker is looking for a three-year deal from Inter, who were said to be interested in January. The report suggests Inter could offer the Frenchman a two-year contract with a club option for a third.

- Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana and Borussia Dortmund attacker Mario Gotze are set to become free agents. Calciomercato report Milan are unconvinced by Lallana and unwilling to sign Gotze due to his high wages.

Frank Lampard will warn his Chelsea squad they must be prepared to "suffer" as they attempt to upset the odds and knock Bayern Munich out of the Champions League.

The Premier League club host Bayern in the opening leg of the last-16 tie on Tuesday, with the return fixture at the Allianz Arena on March 18.

Chelsea will aim to capitalise on having home advantage in the first meeting, but Lampard acknowledges this will be a "level up" for some of his younger, less experienced players in Europe's leading club competition.

"We've got players with Champions League experience in this group, as well as younger players in the early stages of their careers, particularly in the Champions League," Lampard, who won the tournament as a player with Chelsea during his illustrious career, told the media on Monday.

"They have to understand why I keep talking about the levels going up, and what the mindset levels are. A big part of my job tomorrow is to explain to the players that over two legs, we need to be at our maximum.

"We must make sure every box is ticked in both games. We can't get caught up in game moments. After the game, we will probably suffer.

"Bayern Munich are an incredible side with the ball. They've got some really talented players who keep the ball and use the ball well. If we have to suffer, we have to suffer. That's our job over the next two games."

This will be a new challenge for Reece James and Mason Mount in particular, the duo having spent the previous season on loan at Championship clubs Wigan Athletic and Derby County respectively.

However, Lampard will continue to put faith in his youth movement as the Blues look to progress to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2014.

"I've got no doubts to start them. I trust in those two," the Chelsea head coach said. "I trust all the young players who have been part of the squad this year. That's a huge part of what we do here.

"The reason I trust them is because of the way they play, the way they train. I will speak to them.

"They've played big games but as I've mentioned before, it changes slightly when you get to the knockout stage. I'll certainly speak to all of my players, particularly the younger players about what that means."

Chelsea go into the game following a 2-1 league win Tottenham, who lost 7-2 at home to Bayern in the group stages of the Champions League.

Olivier Giroud started – and scored – in the weekend triumph over their London rivals, leaving Lampard with a decision to make over whether the France striker retains his place in the starting XI.

"I know I can rely on him," he said of Giroud. "He's professional, he's quality and he was great. He's given me a lot to think about."

Pedro is available again, but Lampard confirmed he will be without Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi – who is "not far away" from a return – and N'Golo Kante.

N'Golo Kante is set to miss up to five games during a vital spell in Chelsea's season as Frank Lampard's side prepare to host Jose Mourinho's Tottenham on Saturday.

Midfielder Kante has suffered several injury setbacks this season, the latest of which came when he was forced off after just 12 minutes of the defeat to Manchester United on Monday.

Blues boss Lampard confirmed a "muscle injury" for the Frenchman, putting his recovery at around three weeks, which would rule Kante out of the home Champions League tie against Bayern Munich, as well as the visit of Liverpool in the FA Cup and three Premier League fixtures.

"N'Golo is not fit. It's a muscle injury, similar to the one he came off against Arsenal [on January 21] with," said Lampard.

"It should hopefully be three weeks."

The news will come as a bitter blow for Chelsea, whose loss to United left them looking increasingly vulnerable in fourth spot.

Indeed, this weekend's visitors would overtake them with a win as former Stamford Bridge favourite Mourinho seeks a victory on his latest return to west London.

Lampard won two Premier League titles under Mourinho at Chelsea but does not see their personal duel as being pivotal in the outcome of a match that could have a big say in who qualifies for the Champions League.

"Our relationship changes," said Lampard. "I wished him well when he got the job and he wished me well. We are amicable but we want to win.

"I have got respect for him but I am not considering the personal battle between me and him. I am just trying to win the game."

The ex-England midfielder described the 2019-20 season as a "transitional" one for Chelsea and insisted injuries had made progress tougher.

Asked if missing out on the Champions League would represent a failure, Lampard said: "That is for everyone else to judge. The injuries have been a big issue. What we do know is we are in fourth and we have it in our hands. It is going to be tough. Teams around us are strong.

"This season is a transitional year, and fans appreciate that. Not many teams have had our injuries. Kante has played 50 per cent of the games.

"The fans respect that and they see what we try to do. They will be there to support us. It is tight at the moment and we need the fans behind us. The players will give everything."

N'Golo Kante's injury-hit campaign continued after the Chelsea midfielder was forced off early on against Manchester United on Monday.

Kante, who was out with a hamstring problem in January and missed several games earlier in the season with groin and ankle issues, made way after 12 minutes at Stamford Bridge. 

It was not clear what the problem was for the 28-year-old, who has made 18 Premier League appearances for Frank Lampard's team and was replaced by Mason Mount.

The injury comes ahead of important fixtures for Chelsea, who face Tottenham on Saturday and Bayern Munich in the first leg Champions League of their last-16 tie three days later.

Ross Barkley's reaction to a difficult 2019-20 season has been "spot on", according to Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard.

England international Barkley made 27 Premier League appearances for Maurizio Sarri in the previous campaign but has featured in the top flight just seven times under Lampard.

The 26-year-old, who the Blues boss insisted will not be leaving Stamford Bridge in January amid reported interest from West Ham, sustained a foot injury in October that sidelined him for two months.

He was also criticised by Lampard after a pair of videos emerged – one of him arguing over spilt chips with a taxi driver in Liverpool and another of him dancing topless in a Dubai nightclub.

However, Barkley scored in the 2-0 FA Cup third-round win against Nottingham Forest on January 5 and completed the 90 minutes against Burnley, just the second time he has done so in the Premier League this season.

"There have been a couple of issues this year with Ross. He knows that and I know that," said Lampard.

"I think his training, in the last month particularly, has been absolutely focused. And let's factor in the injury he had which was really niggly. It was a difficult one for him because he was one foot in training and one foot out.

"He was training at a certain per cent to show he was there, but he clearly wasn't. I respected that because he was trying.

"Now that's cleared up and he is showing his qualities, particularly against Burnley. So that's great news for all of us.

"We had a couple of chats around those things. As I said at the time, I really like Ross and in my career, I had moments where I did things that I slightly regretted.  It's what you do to get out of them that's really important. 

"And Ross' reaction in the past month has been spot on, in terms of how he is around the place. I'm a great believer in that how you train relates to how you play, and he has shown that."

Lampard acknowledged the modern era makes it difficult for off-field incidents to go unnoticed but believes professionalism is of paramount importance.

"My biggest concern was not really the bag of chips [in the Liverpool taxi incident], it was more the fact that we were training the next day," said the Blues boss.

"That is exactly where I see it and Ross knows that and I am not one to tell my lads, 'Don't have a bag of chips, don't have a few beers after you win a game.'

"Just make sure that when you think about the big scheme [of things], you do it with the idea you have to train and perform at a level and, as the game has moved forward and the speed and intensity of it even more so from my day and from eras gone by, the players have to be absolutely tip-top or this game will find you out.

"That's not just a thing to Ross, that is to all the players about how they live their life."

Barkley's return to the starting line-up was aided by a hamstring injury to N'Golo Kante, but the France international could make his first appearance since January 1 against Newcastle United on Saturday.

"He's had a few issues through the week. I think it's a decision I have to make with absolute certainty but at the minute it looks like he's good to go," added Lampard.

Frank Lampard is hopeful N'Golo Kante will make a swift return from the hamstring problem that ruled him out of Chelsea's 3-0 win over Burnley on Saturday.

Kante's fellow midfielder Jorginho opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi got in on the act.

Chelsea remain in the final Champions League qualification place, five points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United, and Lampard knows how important it will be to have his France international back fit and firing.

"I'm hoping short-term. He actually got through training but had an awareness of it," the Blues boss told BBC Match of the Day after Kante's absence unhelpfully coincided with speculation linking him to Real Madrid.

"It didn't break down as such. It's something we'll have to look at in the week ahead.

"We know how important he is for us and he's played so many games over the years regularly.

"This year, not so much – which is unfortunate for everybody here. So we'll look after him and hopefully it's not too long."

Kante has missed eight of Chelsea's 22 Premier League matches so far this term, having been hampered by a series of minor issues.

Christian Pulisic was another injury victim in training at Cobham this week, suffering tendon damage.

The United States' attacker being sidelined created the opportunity for Hudson-Odoi to start and score his first Premier League goal.

"Callum did very well. The urgency of his game, being on the edge, making runs and getting at people – so positive," Lampard added.

"Those are the things that he needs to do, keep working on that. We know the talent he's got."

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated the 2010s in terms of individual awards and moments of pure inspiration.

Future generations will look back on this past decade as a period obsessed with the two generational talents - their often-exaggerated rivalry exacerbated by spending such a long time on opposite sides of the Clasico divide.

But, while Ronaldo and Messi have filled more column inches than any other player on the planet, there are plenty of others who have been world leaders in their respective positions.

Having looked back over the last 10 years, using Opta data for inspiration, we have selected a Team of the Decade. But who makes the cut?

Is David de Gea selected in goal? Does Luis Suarez join Messi in attack? Has Virgil van Dijk done enough for inclusion? Find out below...

OMNISPORT TEAM OF THE DECADE

Manuel Neuer

There is not much more Manuel Neuer could have achieved over the past 10 years. For much of that time he has been one of the globe's most dependable goalkeepers, even if he has shown signs of decline since a spate of foot injuries. A veteran of seven Bundesliga title triumphs and a World Cup winner with Germany, Neuer boasts a save percentage of 74.2 per cent and has comfortably the most clean sheets (139) this decade in the German top flight.

Dani Alves

Has there ever been a better right-back than Dani Alves? The Brazilian stands to leave an impressive legacy, not just through his thrilling style of play, but with his record-breaking trophy haul of 43 after captaining Brazil to Copa America success this year. Despite being a right-back, he claimed 67 assists in league action through the 2010s, though his greatest contribution came in LaLiga with Barcelona, for whom he set up 51 goals. Marcelo (48) is the closest to him, but he has played 77 times more than the current Sao Paulo star.

Vincent Kompany

Although a brilliant player at his best, it is understandable to suggest Vincent Kompany never reached his ceiling due to injuries. Nevertheless, the Belgian will go down as a Premier League great such has been his impact with Manchester City, with whom he enjoyed four title wins. Kompany recorded 83 Premier League clean sheets in the 2010s, just 10 fewer than record-setter Kyle Walker, who has played 57 more matches. His leadership qualities have been missed by City this season.

Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos is a player who often polarises opinion, but he's one of only three players to have been at Madrid for the entire decade, so he must be doing something right. An undisputed leader and fierce competitor, Ramos is a big-game player like few others and boasts a goal-scoring record even many midfielders would be happy with, having netted 43 times in LaLiga since the start of 2010, more than any other defender. Over the past 10 years, he's helped Los Blancos to a remarkable four Champions League titles, while he won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 with Spain.

Jordi Alba

At his best, Jordi Alba was almost unstoppable. The flying left-back became a staple and key outlet for one of the great Barcelona teams, with his driving runs – on or off the ball – often creating havoc. A master at making a darting run into the box before cutting a pass back to create a chance, Alba has 38 LaLiga assists to his name for Barca, a record bettered by only Dani Alves and Marcelo among defenders. He gets the nod ahead of his Madrid counterpart as his assist haul is from 72 fewer matches.

Luka Modric

The only player to break the Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi Ballon d'Or duopoly, Luka Modric has enjoyed a wonderful decade. A vital part of the Croatia team that enjoyed an historic run to the 2018 World Cup final, Modric also played a big role in Madrid's incredible Champions League domination. Toni Kroos (11,260) is the only midfielder to have completed more passes in LaLiga than Modric (10,759), while he laid on 42 assists and created 522 chances.

N'Golo Kante

If there was an award for the most likeable player of the decade, N'Golo Kante would surely be a frontrunner. Sadly there is no such thing, so he'll have to contend with inclusion in this team. Arguably the key cog in Leicester City's remarkable Premier League title win, Kante followed that up with similarly impressive form at Chelsea and with France, winning the World Cup with Les Bleus last year. He has made 912 tackles and interceptions in the Premier League, putting him fifth among players with 200 appearances or fewer this decade, and each of those who rank higher have played at least 20 matches more.

David Silva

When David Silva leaves Man City at the end of the season, there will inevitably be a debate as to whether he can be regarded the Premier League's greatest 'import'. That this will even be suggested tells you the impact he has had. No one gets close to Silva's record of 89 Premier League assists in the 2010s, with the Spaniard almost certainly the most consistent creator the division has seen in the past 10 years. He was similarly important for Spain until his post-World Cup retirement last year, having previously lifted the trophy in South Africa in 2010 and at Euro 2012, eventually accumulating 125 caps.

Lionel Messi

Where does one even begin with Lionel Messi? If any single player has defined the 2010s – from an individual perspective – in world football, it is surely the Barcelona talisman. In LaLiga, Messi has amassed 505 goal involvements (369 goals, 136 assist) in 343 matches since the start of the decade, routinely carrying Barca to victory. He has won every trophy possible with the Blaugrana over the past 10 years and claimed five Ballons d'Or, with his 2019 victory giving him a record-breaking sixth. Although now 32, he remains frighteningly decisive – all that eludes him is international success with Argentina.

Robert Lewandowski

A long list of immense strikers have starred throughout the 2010s, but arguably chief among them – Ronaldo aside – is Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski. Having moved from Borussia Dortmund, whom he helped turn into Champions League contenders, the Poland international has developed into a remarkable all-round striker. In 307 Bundesliga games he has 221 goals from 1,163 attempts, meaning he scores every 5.2 shots – by contrast, Ronaldo needs 6.4 efforts per goal. Although he is yet to win Europe's elite club competition, there is little doubt the Pole appears to be getting better with age having already notched 19 league goals this term, just three short of his total for 2018-19.

Cristiano Ronaldo

In the somewhat tiresome 'Ronaldo or Messi' debate about which superstar is "better", the former can at least point to his international successes with Portugal as something that sets him apart, having lifted Euro 2016 and the 2018-19 Nations League. That is just the tip of the iceberg for his brilliance in the 2010s, however. Across spells with Real Madrid and Juventus, Ronaldo has scored 335 league goals and laid on 95 assists. With Los Blancos he helped inspire four Champions League successes, also winning a couple of LaLiga titles. What a privilege it has been to see Ronaldo and Messi in the same era.

N'Golo Kante says he rebuffed interest from Paris Saint-Germain because he is happy at Chelsea.

Ligue 1 champions PSG have long been linked with the France international and reportedly tried to sign him following his impressive displays at the 2018 World Cup.

The move never materialised and Kante, considered one of the Premier League's best midfielders, is now in his fourth season at Stamford Bridge.

He signed a new five-year contract with the club in November 2018 and has no plans to leave.

"Sometimes you don't really know where you want to go, but you know what you already have," Kante told Canal+ when asked about PSG's interest.

"I knew I was at Chelsea and I felt good at Chelsea. On top of that, it was a footballing decision.

"I felt good in London and I felt happy in this project and therefore I am happy to stay here."

Kante joined Chelsea in 2016 following a season with Leicester City, where he won the first of his two Premier League titles.

The 28-year-old scored for the third time this season in the Blues' 2-1 defeat to Manchester City on Saturday.

If winning ugly truly is a mark of champions, Manchester City's Premier League title challenge is very much alive.

After losing to Liverpool two weeks ago and then watching yet another late winner from Jurgen Klopp's relentless Reds at Crystal Palace earlier on Saturday, City's task against Chelsea was straightforward: don't give the leaders any more reason to believe.

Pep Guardiola's message before the game was simple, too, as the task of hauling in Liverpool was laid bare: "We have two options – give up or don't give up." Against Chelsea, they flirted with the former before choosing the latter.

Quite what the message to Benjamin Mendy was is another matter, though, and one that could have deeper implications when the title race enters its more decisive months.

Chelsea, of course, came to Etihad Stadium in buoyant mood - quite the contrast to the way they left it last season after a 6-0 humiliation of a kind rarely experienced, certainly since Roman Abramovich laid down roots in London. But this is a different Chelsea: a team playing with few expectations, bursting with confidence and chasing an eighth away win in a row in all competitions for the first time.

More to the point, there was a plan: get after Mendy. Not included against Liverpool for "tactical reasons", Mendy was part of the Chelsea blueprint from the off. Willian attacked relentlessly down the right and N'Golo Kante often joined him. With Raheem Sterling unwilling to track back, Rodri was dragged to the left to provide cover.

That was how Chelsea struck.

Mateo Kovacic played a one-two with Jorginho on halfway, and Kante set off, a diminutive whirlwind surging through the middle of the sky blue shirts onto the Kovacic pass. Rodri, out of position, did not track him; Fernandinho, emergency centre-back again, could not. Kante finished well under pressure from Mendy, who had belatedly realised the danger. It was Chelsea's second and final shot on target.

Chelsea deserved their lead. Beating City requires a careful plan and the hope of an off-day from Guardiola's men and, boy, they had that in the first half-hour. Kante has not been transformed by Frank Lampard - nobody should forget how Maurizio Sarri was often pilloried for playing the France star further forward - but he has embraced this idea of unleashing the former Leicester City man. In terms of average positions, Kante ended the first half the furthest forward of any Chelsea player. He was a weapon deployed with astute precision.

City, meanwhile, were alarmingly poor. Whatever the end result, Guardiola teams can normally be guaranteed to have more possession and run that little bit harder than their opponents. After 45 minutes, they had had 45 per cent of the ball and been outsprinted 56-50.

And yet, they were winning.

Kevin De Bruyne was wayward with his early passing but it soon became clear that, if it was going to happen for City, it would happen through him. It duly did 29 minutes in, De Bruyne dummying Jorginho and finding the net via the well-placed studs of Kurt Zouma, all after Fernandinho waded back into more comfortable midfield waters to steal possession.

For all their own problems at left-back, City identified the same weakness in Chelsea, a team who, exciting as they are, have kept only three clean sheets in the league under Lampard. Emerson Palmieri was tasked with dealing with Riyad Mahrez and simply never managed it. When he asked for help from Kovacic, they were equally obliging in allowing Mahrez to cut into the box on his left foot and finish in supreme style.

Mahrez was the main threat after the break, a clever corner giving Joao Cancelo a chance to score before a brilliant Kepa Arrizabalaga save denied him a second goal of his own. He would have had a late assist for Sterling but for a correct VAR intervention for offside.

A Chelsea comeback never really looked on and City had control once Ilkay Gundogan was introduced, even if they ended with the lowest possession figure, 46.7 per cent, that Guardiola has seen in 381 league matches in charge of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City.

They are back into third, nine points behind Liverpool, with a slight hop in their step if not quite a spring. Never mind the gap, as David Silva said on Friday; City have overturned them before.

But there is a nagging doubt about Mendy, about how he impacts the team as a whole and whether he is worth the gamble, that is more difficult to ignore.

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