Graham Potter will not hurry N’Golo Kante back into action at Chelsea as he continues his recovery from the hamstring injury that has kept him out since August.
The midfielder is not in contention to be involved when the Blues face Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League last-16 second leg on Tuesday, though the manager confirmed he has taken part in two full training sessions with the first team.
Kante has been unavailable to Potter since his appointment in September, and had surgery in October on the injury he sustained during Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham seven months ago.
The team’s form has suffered badly in the absence of their most influential midfielder, with Saturday’s 1-0 win against Leeds only the third they have recorded in their last 15.
Ahead of the visit of Dortmund, which could yet play a part in defining what has been a difficult season for Chelsea, Potter described how Kante’s progress and imminent return have lifted the rest of the squad.
“N’Golo is a complex one,” he said. “He’s been a long time out. There’s back in full training, but then it’s ‘how do you get him back to speed to play Champions League or Premier League football?’.
“He needs time with the group, a bit of time in full training, then we need time to build his minutes up.
“He won’t be able to play 90 minutes any time soon but the fact he’s training, and with us and getting closer is exciting for everybody.”
Chelsea trail 1-0 from the first leg in Dortmund three weeks ago, and need a win and progress to the quarter-finals to keep open what looks likely to be their only achievable route back into next season’s competition.
They are 11 points back in the race for the Premier League’s top four, but impressed during the defeat at the Signal Iduna Stadium, creating a host of chances as they largely dominated the Bundesliga’s second-place side.
Edin Terzic’s team have won 10 in a row in all competitions and trail champions and leaders Bayern Munich only on goal difference in their bid to win a first league title since 2012.
“In terms of what we learned from the previous game, we’re meeting a top opponent,” said Potter. “You can see their results in the Bundesliga. They’re in a fantastic vein of form. Winning games constantly, 10 in a row.
“They’re doing a lot well. Attack, defend, good individuals, well-coached. It’s a good challenge for us, but we’re excited for it and we’re looking forward to it.
“The position we’re in, we should always welcome the pressure. Because it means you’re in a fantastic situation, which is to compete for the last eight of the Champions League. It’ll be a special night. It was a special occasion in Dortmund and I’m sure it will be the same at Stamford Bridge.”
January loan signing Joao Felix, who came closest to scoring for the Blues in Dortmund when he struck the crossbar, said qualification for next season’s competition will not influence whether or not he remains at Stamford Bridge beyond the summer. He is currently due to return to Atletico Madrid at the end of the season.
“If I want to stay or not, I think the future no-one knows,” said Felix. “I’m just focused on the (Dortmund) game. After that, we don’t know what will happen. The club is so big, it’s amazing, everyone behind the club is so good. I’m happy to be here.
“Playing in the Champions League, it’s a competition that everyone wants to play. Now I focus on tomorrow’s game, we have a lot of games yet to try and reach the Champions League through the league. It’s not over.
“I think I needed (the loan). When I left Atletico, I said it was good for me and for them. I think it was the perfect deal, to try something different. I always try to do my best, sometimes it doesn’t work. I had to change to see if things could go differently. It’s important for me, this loan.”