N'Golo Kante close to featuring against Man United - Antonio Conte
LONDON -- Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has said N'Golo Kante is "progressing well" and insisted that he will not be taking a risk if he includes the midfielder in his team to take on Manchester United on Sunday.
Kante has been sidelined since picking up a hamstring injury on France duty in early October, missing six matches in all competitions including damaging losses in the Premier League against Crystal Palace and in the Champions League against Roma.
Conte said he needed "a lot of patience" not to pick Kante for Wednesday's 3-0 defeat at Stadio Olimpico, but believes the 26-year-old is now close to being available after a full week of training with the first-team squad.
"He is progressing well," Conte said of Kante. "I have also tomorrow [Saturday] and then I'll take the best decision for him, for the team. I'm very happy for this. You know very well that we're talking about an important player.
"Honestly if I wanted to risk him I could do this against Bournemouth, I could do this against Roma. Instead I waited, I found in myself a lot of patience to find the best way for N'Golo. It means that if I decide to put him in the team to start the game, he will be ready to do this."
Asked if Victor Moses, also recovering from a hamstring injury, could feature against United, Conte replied: "No, zero chance. Moses' injury was a bad muscular problem and we have to wait, to have patience. He needs more time to recover."
Chelsea face United knowing anything less than a win will see them fall even further out of the Premier League title picture; they are already nine points adrift of leaders Manchester City, who have won nine of their first 10 matches while scoring 35 goals.
"I think now there is a big problem for all the teams that want to fight for the title, and this big problem is Manchester City," Conte said. "If they continue in this way, it will be very difficult to fight for the title.
"In this season we're struggling a lot because we're facing a lot of important problems. To solve these problems is not simple, but in this moment you can see if you are winners or losers. When the period is positive, it's very simple for everyone to play well, to have confidence.
"In this moment that you are struggling, it's important to show our character, to be strong, to face the problems in the right way."
Sunday's match also sees Conte face off against Jose Mourinho. The two men have clashed publicly on several occasions since the beginning of last season, but Chelsea's head coach was in no mood to indulge questions about their personal relationship on Friday.
"I think it's not important the relationship between the coaches," he said. "You have to respect the job of the other coach and stop there. I don't like to speak about other situations. I have respect for the job, then I stop. I finish. Then he is an opponent and I'm an opponent for him. After the game it will be the same.
"I have respect for his job. He must have respect for my job. I stop."
A more positive subject for Conte was the inclusion of Chelsea loanees Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in Gareth Southgate's latest England squad for friendlies against Germany and Brazil.
"I think these players are having the right path, the right development," he added. "It's very important for these players to play regularly and show they are ready to be Chelsea players.
"Don't forget that the pressure is totally different if you play in a team that is fighting in the relegation zone, but I think this is the right path for Ruben and Tammy. I'm very happy that they're doing very well."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.