A Premier League with Leicester City and Chelsea and a World Cup with France, N’golo Kante has done it all playing as a defensive midfielder. The Frenchman is widely praised as one of the best in that position.
Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri recently received some backlash from Chelsea fans and a few pundits when he said that Kante can’t play as a defensive midfielder in his system. The Italian prefers his defensive midfielder to move the ball around quickly and play a key role in build-up play.
Dropping a player like Kante would be a waste of quality and hence Sarri decided to play the midfielder as a number eight. The former Napoli manager wanted to get the best of Kante’s traits and present him with some offensive burden too.
Now, Kante plays as a central midfielder who advances forward to win the ball in the opponent’s box and provide Chelsea with some firepower up-front. And naturally, Kante’s passing had to improve, simply because it’s a basic requirement in Sarri’s system.
Additionally, he is also expected to make decisive runs into the box and keep at least one defender occupied. Which means Kante can prove to be a direct threat to the goal. The goal that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten run rightly testifies this when Chelsea played them earlier in the season.
Basically, the Frenchman now has an advanced and more direct role. He has seven goal involvements (three goals and four assists) this season and it’s not a coincidence that these are his career-best figures.
It was not exactly a smooth ride for the 27-year-old. Initially he struggled to fit into the system as his passing was not exactly cut out for Sarri’s system. The hard-worker that he always has been, Kante has improved his passing a lot in the past few months.
Sarri is trying to get the best of Kante’s strengths – high work-rate, good ball-winning abilities and intense pressing. But the Frenchman is expected to do this as while playing a bit higher up the pitch than what he is used to.
The 27-year-old endured initial hiccups like any player tasked with a change in role would. But he has shown grit and determination to grow into his new role and done exactly that. It also helps that he has never voiced dissent in giving up his favoured role as a defensive midfielder.
He will be key for Chelsea when they take on Dynamo Kyiv in the UEFA Europa League.