N’golo Kante has without a shadow of a doubt established himself as one of the world’s best ball-winning central midfield players since coming to England when Claudio Ranieri signed him for would-be champions Leicester City in 2015. Upon arrival, little was known about the Frenchman and very few knew his name, however, that would quickly change. Kante would go on to prove pivotal to Leicester’s success finishing the season as one of their best players alongside Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, earning him a move to Antonio Conte’s Chelsea. What followed was another outstanding season for the Frenchmen, as he picked up another Premier League winner’s medal and a PFA Men’s Player of The Year award ahead of the likes of Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez in 2016/2017. After another solid campaign on an individual level in 2017/2018, Kante had cemented himself as a world-class midfielder, and one of the most important members of his team both at club and international level. But a change of manager at club level meant new ideas, and a new role for Kante and what followed were questions over his position, and whether he could still perform at such a high level in the new advanced role he had been placed in.
The appointment of Mauricio Sarri at Chelsea signalled style and system changes in the way the team would set up particularly in midfield. Kante was pushed into a more advanced 8 position in favour of a deep-lying playmaker (Jorginho), as opposed to a traditional defensive midfielder at the base of a midfield three. Kante being the player that he is, still had a fairly decent season but fans would often argue that he wasn’t able to do what he was best at, which is being a roaming ball winner, making tackles and breaking up attacks. Seeing as this is what established him as a world-class midfielder, football fans started to question whether he was still within that bracket by the end of Sarri’s first and only season in charge at the bridge.
New manager (Frank Lampard) implemented little change to the midfield shape and personnel in his first season, meaning the same role for Kante as under Sarri. Only this time, Kante’s season was hampered with several muscular injuries for large parts of the season. This coupled with a loss of form, only began to exacerbate the claims by football fans that Kante was no longer in that world-class bracket of midfielders and was in fact, even on a decline. I as a Chelsea fan can even admit that I started to believe the latter, as I was of the view that the intensity in which he plays the game involving a massive amount of running and ground covering, was starting to catch up with his body as this style is only sustainable for so long. At Leicester and for his first two years at Chelsea, Kante played in a two-man midfield which allowed him to roam around the pitch hunting for the ball whilst Drinkwater and Matic would sit. Given his intense running style of play, this meant Kante covered massive amounts of ground every game which can leave one more prone to injuries as time goes on, as the muscles begin to tire.
This is what I and many Chelsea fans thought we were witnessing in Lampard’s first season in-charge and many thought it was the right time to cash in on the midfielder. However, this season has seen yet another adjustment to Kante’s role in the team in this ever-evolving career. Lampard has deployed him as the single pivot at the base of a midfield three and this has seen signs of him returning to his best and may have just prolonged his years at the top for a little longer. This is because the CDM role is a very disciplined role which allows for little positional roaming unless it is done as a collective. This could work in Kante’s favour as it will naturally mean a decrease in the ground Kante covers per game which can only benefit a midfielder approaching his 30s. Also, it allows him to go back to doing the ball-winning defensive work which he is so good at that established him as a world-class player under Ranieri and Conte. So far this season, Kante ranks 1st for interceptions with 27 which is four more than second-place Matthew Cash. Overall, many Chelsea fans would agree that there has been a distinct improvement in the level of his performances compared to last season, and he has been nothing short of integral to the start we have made to this season.
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