Friday 9 September 2016 15:34, UK
Nemanja Matic believes new Chelsea signing N'Golo Kante is better than club legend Claude Makelele.
The Serbian has been playing in central midfield for Chelsea since his return to Stamford Bridge in 2014 and has had a new partner in the opening three matches of the season following the arrival of France international Kante for £32m from Leicester.
Matic says his new team-mate could prove to be one of the most important players in Antonio Conte's title quest, playing in a position that is commonly described as the "Makelele role".
And in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Matic lavished praise on Kante by suggesting that he has more quality than his fellow Frenchman, who made over 200 appearances for the Blues between 2003 and 2008.
"He is very important for us, especially in that position," Matic said ahead of Chelsea's trip to Swansea on Super Sunday.
"You have to give balance to the team and he knows how he needs to do that job. He is very important for us.
"I know how difficult it is to play that position and I'm very happy because N'Golo is doing very well and is going to be a very important player for us, maybe one of the most important players in this season.
"It is very hard for him and it's going to be hard, but I'm sure that he is ready.
"Many people say that he is the new Makelele, but I don't think so. Makelele was a great player and we all respect him, me especially because I know that position and how it is difficult to play.
"But I think that N'Golo is better than him. He is doing his defensive job very well and with the ball he has some extra quality."
The arrival of Kante sparked rumours that Matic could leave Chelsea over the summer and he was strongly linked with a move to Juventus after they sold Paul Pogba to Manchester United.
Matic, who has started every Premier League game this season, admits he held talks with Conte and the Chelsea hierarchy over a potential move but decided to stay and work under the new manager.
"To be honest I spoke with him," he added.
"I spoke with the club and we both decided that it was best for the club and for me to stay.
"I'm very happy because I'm now here with this team and this club. I will give my best and all my quality to help the team to challenge for the title.
"As I said, I'm very happy to be here. I want to improve my game and I'm sure Conte is the right coach to do that."
To see more of our interview with Nemanja Matic, tune in to Super Sunday - Swansea v Chelsea - from 3.30pm on Sky Sports 1.