Player Zone: Why N’Golo Kante, not Eden Hazard, is Chelsea’s most important player

Chelsea fans must have breathed a huge sigh of relief last week as N’Golo Kante dismissed notions of a summer move to PSG. The Blues have never been a selling club under Roman Abramovich but there’s always a fear of how the level of commitment can change when a major team fails to qualify for the Champions League, even more so ahead of a summer in which Real Madrid and Barcelona both appear set to shake up their squads after slipping behind the standards of prior campaigns.

Talismanic attacker Eden Hazard will undoubtedly be of interest to both parties, while Thibaut Courtois has been tellingly coy about his future, flirtaciously batting his eyelashes at the Bernabeu club. And yet, while they may constitute Chelsea’s most valuable players in the transfer market, their importance on the pitch is arguably outweighed by Chelsea’s seemingly loyal, unsung Frenchman. Indeed, Kante – not Courtois, club-record signing Alvaro Morata or even Hazard – is Chelsea’s most intrinsic asset. Here’s why.

“I am at home. It is my club, I am a Chelsea player. This is my second year at Chelsea. After what happened last season, it was a very good one for us because we got to celebrate winning the title. In the second season, I have got to play in the Champions League and we are going again to finish in the top four.”

N’Golo Kante on his Chelsea future

Should worst come to worst this summer and Hazard pushes for a move to either side of the El Clasico rivalry, the Belgian maestro is still essentially replaceable. No doubt, Hazard is one of the top attacking talents in the world and it will be difficult to replicate exactly what he brings to this Chelsea side, but prominent attacking midfielders aren’t exactly in short supply right now.

Even from those already at the club, Willian has been arguably more crucial to Chelsea’s performances than Hazard in recent weeks, while Pedro’s pedigree is undoubted even if his form can be patchy. Then there’s the likes of Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – young and promising offensive-minded midfielders who can make an impact going forward.

In any case though, selling Hazard would bring in a gigantic fee, the kind that would allow Chelsea, at a bare minimum, to recruit a player at a similar level to what the Belgian was in 2012 when he arrived at Stamford Bridge. Picking the right one for the long-term hinges on good scouting, but there are clearly options to consider.

And even if Chelsea went for a more ready-made replacement, Gareth Bale, Isco and James Rodriguez, at the very least, could be available this summer, and there’s always the prospect of spending even bigger on someone like Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann.

Antoine Griezmann in his France jersey

Courtois too, albeit one of the best around, is still for all intents and purposes just a goalkeeper. Even if Chelsea don’t find a long-term successor to the Belgium international, stop-gap solutions are readily available. Willy Caballero could do a job for a season if it really came down to it – this is, after all, a goalkeeper who could start for Argentina at this summer’s World Cup, with experience in the Premier League and Europe – and although Courtois is widely revered, he doesn’t have the same instrumental impact on the team as David De Gea or Ederson Moraes for example.

Kante though, is of a far more unique breed. Yes, the Premier League does have likeminded defensive midfielders of incredible energy already, most notably Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi and Everton’s Idrissa Gueye, but they just aren’t anywhere near Kante’s level. In fact, looking around world football, there are incredibly few central midfielders considered to be in the world-class bracket that aren’t technique and possession-oriented.

The France international pretty much stands alone on that front, and in terms of industriousness alone there are hardly any central midfielders who inject the same amount into their respective teams.

After all, it’s no coincidence that Kante has been part of the only two-man engine rooms to win the Premier League title since the days of the Invincibles, and Chelsea particularly would suffer without him as a consequence. Certainly with the midfielders currently at the club, the 3-4-3 system just wouldn’t function properly without Kante providing that mix of defensive protection, ball-winning ability and dynamism.

Hazard’s creativity and Courtois’ shot-stopping qualities represent voids that can at least be partly filled; lose Kante permanently though, and Chelsea will struggle to find a replacement that doesn’t eventually force them to reconsider their game plan.

N'golo Kante's stats vs Barcelona

Indeed, it’s become almost a cliche to suggest Kante – who Transfermarkt value at £54million – puts in the legwork of two players, but that doesn’t mean it’s become untrue. He’s an incredibly rare entity and performances in the Champions League this season show he can influence the biggest games as well, particularly his dominant display at the Nou Camp despite Chelsea losing 3-0.

Add two Premier League titles and his impressive performances at Euro 2016, and Kante has provided the same bullish impact at domestic, European and international level. That only highlights what a huge talent he is, and how difficult he would be for Chelsea to adequately replace.

So, Blues fans, do you see Kante as your club’s most important player? Let us know by voting below…