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Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante is “easily” the best defensive midfielder in the world, Gus Poyet has argued.

Antonio Conte has put his side’s recent slump in form due to the absence of the 26-year-old, and Poyet is in agreement with the Italian.

The former Uruguay international, who spent four years as a player at Stamford Bridge before embarking on a coaching career that took him to Brighton, Sunderland, AEK Athens and Shanghai Shenhua among others, believes the France international is superior in that role to any other player.

“They missed him a lot, you could see how much the minute he came back,” Poyet told Standard Sport. “He’s easily the best central midfielder in the world. Easily. He would play in a World XI, no doubt. I know there are players like Casemiro, Sergio Busquets but he’s better than them.

“He knows the game, when to stay, when to run and how to run well. He reads it so well he knows what is going to happen before he gets there. That way he controls it with his incredible power and finesse. Normally players like that aren’t as good on the ball as Kante is.

“It’s incredible that he went to Leicester and nobody saw him until they won the league! You do what you do, managers do what they do but how didn’t any scouts see him?”

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Without the midfielder, who spent three weeks out due to thigh problems, Chelsea won only two of their five fixtures in the Premier League and Europe, and suffered as many defeats. With Kante in their side in these competitions, the Blues have won five of eight encounters.

This inconsistency has allowed Manchester City to open up a nine-point gap to the fourth-placed Blues at the top of the league standings. Poyet says there is a strange “virus” that has taken hold at Stamford Bridge that means it is difficult for them to mount a serious challenge after winning the title, as Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti have found in the past.

“Winning the title, it’s a virus,” he said. “After you win it the next year something goes wrong for Mourinho, Ancelotti and Conte. It’s tough and when you’re champions everyone wants to kill you.

“For Chelsea it was a very strange summer, a mess inside the club. The Costa situation was tough and so was replacing him. The new players need time to adapt and prove themselves.

“Last year, with all respect to the squad players, the team was made. This year you make one team, I make one team, he makes one team, Conte makes another team. That consistency is why they won the league… not just of selection but formation and style of play.”

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