Chelsea's N'Golo Kante: 'Special' to make Champions League debut
LONDON -- N'Golo Kante described his long-awaited Champions League debut as "special" after producing a typically dominant midfield display to help Chelsea mark their return to the competition with a 6-0 rout of Qarabag.
Antonio Conte made five changes to the starting XI that beat Leicester City in the Premier League last weekend but Kante kept his place, earning a first Champions League appearance along with Marcos Alonso and impressing in 63 minutes on the pitch as Chelsea surged to the top of Group C.
Kante made the decision to postpone his entry into Europe's elite club competition by moving from Leicester City to Chelsea in the summer of 2016, and after the match the France international said the experience had been worth the wait.
"It's special, special to play my first game [in the Champions League]," he said. "It was something that I used to watch when I was young and to play now with Chelsea here at Stamford Bridge is special. I am happy to make my debut in the Champions League.
"I remember when I was asked a year ago [about leaving Leicester to miss the Champions League]. I was sure to join this good club. We did well last season and now we have to play in the Champions League. We will fight to do well in all the competitions."
Davide Zappacosta marked his full Chelsea debut with a goal, mis-hitting a cross from the right flank into the net from 25 yards, but fellow deadline day signing Danny Drinkwater sat out the match with a calf problem picked up in training on Sunday.
After the Qarabag win Kante added that he is pleased to be reunited with his Premier League title-winning midfield partner, and hopes they can enjoy similar success at Chelsea.
"I am pleased for him to come into Chelsea -- we need everyone -- especially after our time together in Leicester," Kante said. "I hope it could be something like Leicester or even more, I hope.
"We did a special year together in Leicester to win the league. It wasn't expected and I really enjoyed the season that I spent with him. I am happy that he chose to join Chelsea and I am happy to play with him again."
Arsenal are the next visitors to Stamford Bridge on Sunday and Kante warned that Chelsea will have to pay special attention to his France teammate Alexandre Lacazette, who has scored twice in four Premier League appearances since joining the Gunners for a club-record fee of around £52 million last summer.
"I think maybe in England you don't know him very well but he started to score [already]," Kante said of Lacazette. "In France, he was a very good goal scorer who scored for many, many years and he will be a threat for Sunday's game.
"We have to be ready to stop him but the most important thing is the team and we need to win."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.