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'Kante is not a sitting midfielder' - Zola defends Sarri over use of Chelsea star

2:53 PM WAT 11/08/2019
N'Golo Kante Jorginho Huddersfield Chelsea 08112018
The former Blues assistant manager says fans have misunderstood the Frenchman's role after criticism of their former head coach

Gianfranco Zola has defended Chelsea's decision to use N’Golo Kante in a more advanced role last season, saying that fans are wrong to think of him as a holding midfielder.

The use of Kante ahead of sitting midfielder Jorginho last season was a contentious issue as Blues fans took issue with the tactics of then-manager Maurizio Sarri.

Sarri won the Europa League, reached the Carabao Cup final and finished third with the Blues before moving on to Serie A champions Juventus, but throughout the season faced intense criticism for his perceived misuse of Kante. Zola was assistant manager during the 2018-19 season.

“There are two reasons for that,” he told BeINSports.

“The main reason is that in the way Sarri plays, the sitting midfielder, the number six, is the player that plays the most balls in the whole team.

“Normally Jorginho, when he was at Napoli and also last year, makes between 140 and 160 touches, sometimes even more. So he wants somebody that confident in getting the ball and playing it, not afraid to play and be influential in the game. That is the first reason.”

Kante rose to prominence during his initial spell at Leicester for his industrious work in midfield, becoming known for his tackling and interceptions.

Given more attacking licence further up the pitch by Sarri, fans read this as the World Cup winner being player out of position – but Zola thinks they have misunderstood his role.

“The second reason is that Kante is not a sitting midfielder,” he said.

“Although he has always played in a midfield two, at Leicester and in his first two years at Chelsea, at Leicester he was playing with Drinkwater, who was the sitting one and Kante was moving around. He was free to go sideways, backwards, whatever he wanted.

“And it was the same at Chelsea when Matic was the sitting one and Kante was doing the same job. We spoke with Kante about this and he was very happy to play the position because he liked the position.”

Kante has recently spoken about the change of role, saying it was a challenge he enjoyed and felt he rose to over the course of the season.