Imagine having one of, if not the best, defensive midfielders in the world in your side. What don’t you do with him? You don’t play him out of position. In this case, Chelsea and N’Golo Kante are getting by just fine with the Frenchman in an unusually advanced position, but Maurizio Sarri must put the Frenchman back where he belongs.
When the Italian boss arrived at Stamford Bridge from Napoli back in the summer, the Blues’ fans were full of excitement as they anticipated a free-flowing, eye-catching style of football arriving in west London, and they have not been disappointed.
Chelsea currently sit third in the Premier League table, just four points behind leaders Manchester City and are yet to lose a game this season. However, there is a reason why they are four points off the top; they aren’t utilising arguably their most important player, behind Eden Hazard, to full effect.
Kante arrived in England as a little known defensive midfielder from Caen, but quickly announced himself as a pedantic, obsessive ball-winner who gave his opponents little time on the ball. The 27-year-old won the title in his first two season with Leicester and Chelsea respectively.
The World Cup winner has topped the tackling and interception charts for what seems like almost every game he has played in since coming to England, although under Sarri, he is being asked to do a slightly different role.
In Naples, the 59-year-old boss often played with a midfield of Marek Hamsik, Allan and Jorginho, the latter of whom he has bought with him to London. He was the player who kept the game ticking over, Hamsik often played the role which Ross Barkley or Mateo Kovacic have done this season, and Allan was the player most similar to Kante.
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Sarri also asked the Brazilian midfield destroyer to push further up the pitch, proving that whilst the boss does operate with a defensive player in the middle, he does not ask them to perform the conventional role they are used to.
Kante has never been much of a goalscorer, nor a creator; he has just 12 goals and 15 assists in 262 career games.
His average tackles per game this season compared to last season are down almost half, from 3.3 per game to just 1.8, whilst his average interceptions are down from 2.5 to a poor 0.8 – well, poor by his lofty standards (stats as per Whoscored).
In comparison to his attacking statistics in his new position this season, Kante’s stats aren’t too dissimilar to the ones he recorded whilst playing under Antonio Conte as a traditional ball-winner.
Interestingly, the France international’s shots per game have increased from 0.7 to 1.1, although he has scored just once in 12 games as a result of poor finishing and a weak shooting technique. Additionally, his key passes per game have increased by just 0.1.
Conclusively, his numbers for this season have only been vastly different in the defensive areas, contributing very little to the attack with just a solitary goal and assist to his name.
For now, at least, it doesn’t seem to be affecting the team, but surely sooner than later Sarri may have to move Kante back and find a new role for J0rginho.
In the big games against Liverpool and Manchester United this season, they have taken just two points out of six, despite entering stoppage time with the lead – perhaps with arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world being utilised properly, they would’ve held on for the win and ultimately be joint-top.
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