Thomas Tuchel said Chelsea's likely third-place Premier League finish despite the injury struggles of key player N'Golo Kante is nothing short of a "miracle".
French midfielder Kante has endured an injury-ravaged campaign that has seen him sit out more than half the Blues' matches in 2021/22.
But his influence was on full display Thursday as his energy and guile contributed to Chelsea's 1-1 draw at home to Leicester City that all but assures them of third place and with it automatic qualification to next season's Champions League group phase.
Chelsea boast a goal difference superiority of 18 on fourth-placed Tottenham, and manager Tuchel believes the job to seal third is effectively done and dusted.
Tuchel underlined Kante's influence, measuring his importance against the likes of Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk for Liverpool and Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for Paris Saint-Germain.
“I think he is our key, key, key player; but key, key, key players need to be on the pitch,” Tuchel said of Kante.
“He plays only 40 per cent of the games. So it’s maybe a miracle that we arrived in third place.
“Because he is our Mo Salah, he is our Van Dijk, he is our [Kevin] De Bruyne, he is simply that player.
“He is our Neymar, he is our Kylian Mbappe; he is the guy who makes the difference.
“And if you only have him 40 per cent it’s a huge problem.
“Given that percentage it’s maybe a miracle of how consistent we produce results and puts everything into perspective.
“Because I saw Liverpool without Van Dijk last season and they struggled, heavily. And you see the difference.
“So N’Golo is our key player, and he needs to be on the pitch.”
Asked if Chelsea can solve Kante’s physical issues, Tuchel continued: “I hope so. It’s hard to live with, because it’s important for him to be there and have the rhythm.
“I think he played OK, but he can play so much better.
“He can play so much better, but when was his last game that he started, it was weeks ago.
“So he constantly starts getting rhythm, then once he gets rhythm comes a little injury and he’s out again.
“Imagine last year, he was in the last five matches of Champions League man of the match.
“I mean they handed him the trophy before the match, because it was clear when he played he would be man of the match. It was like this.
“And this guy who gets man of the match in every Champions League game, he’s only here for 40-something per cent of the match.”
Chelsea v Leicester ratings
James Maddison lashed Leicester into an early lead at Chelsea, before Alonso volleyed home from Reece James’ fine angled cross.
“We were the better team and we deserved to win, but we did what was needed,” said Tuchel.
“We needed a point, we got a point, and didn’t allow any chances.
“But today is still the day where we secured third place.”
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers hailed goalscorer Maddison for emerging from tough times to produce a fine overall campaign.
“James really is a top player and he’s maturing with every game that he plays," Rodgers said.
“I thought he was our standout player with the ball, his aggression, his ability to take the ball in space.
“This is a young man that showed great courage and came to me when he said his confidence had taken a bit of a hit.
“We just built him up again, fundamentally helped him work hard on his game.
“And from that moment he’s worked his way back into the game, been consistent and defensively he’s been very good.
“He’s really, really improved, and he’s been our top player this season.”