Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
The diminutive destroyer, N’Golo Kante, has established himself as one of the finest players in the world in his position since arriving on English shores in 2015.
In early August of that year, Kante was brought to the Premier League by Leicester City, who paid just £5.8m to prise the midfielder away from Ligue 1 side Caen. Back then, his arrival was greeted with a collective shrug of the shoulders.
Little was known about the then 24-year old whose signing looked like a punt in the dark by a middling club attempting to do things a little differently in a transfer market that was exploding vertically and out of their reach.
When the transfer was confirmed, the BBC’s throwaway line about Kante illustrated just how little was known about the Frenchman.
“The French midfielder helped Caen win promotion in 2013-14 and played 37 times in France’s top flight last term”.
That was it. That was all we knew.
However, three years, two Premier League titles and one World Cup winners medal later, everybody knows who N’Golo Kante is.
The Complete Defensive Midfielder
Kante’s development has accelerated at a searing pace since he was spotted darting about the pitches of Normandy three years ago. Under Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City, Kante thrived as a holding midfielder performing the same tasks as his compatriot and forerunner Claude Makelele.
After a single season of unprecedented Premier League glory at Leicester, Kante took his attack dismantling toolkit to Chelsea where he continued to excel, utilising his inexhaustible energy to eat up yards and shut opposition passing lanes in the defensive third. He was a one-man army, patrolling and squeezing the space so tightly that barely a whisper could breach the Chelsea lines.
Another Premier League title followed and soon Didier Deschamps came calling, handing Kante his first senior cap in 2016. He has been a mainstay in Les Bleus starting XI since, amassing thirty one caps in total since his first run-out against the Netherlands.
Kante lifted the World Cup for France in Russia this summer to help ease the frustration of what had been disastrous domestic campaign for Chelsea.
But even though Chelsea’s standards collectively slipped in 2017/18, Kante was one of a handful of individuals to maintained his own. Last season, Kante made the 3rd highest number of tackles per game in the Premier League (3.5) and made the joint highest number of interceptions per ninety minutes (2.5).
A new role under Maurizio Sarri?
This season looks set to be a campaign of further evolution for Kante. New Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, famed for his inventiveness and innovative coaching, has identified a new role for Kante to play.
While Kante’s reputation has been forged through the bite of his tackling and his ability to close doors, Sarri believes that Kante’s attributes lend themselves to more adventurous, attacking duties. It makes sense that Kante’s perpetual motion and clever passing could cause headaches for defenders and with that in mind, Sarri has redeployed Kante further up the pitch.
Of course, the arrival of deep lying midfielder Jorginho from Napoli for a huge fee was always likely to see a reshuffle in the Chelsea midfield. If you pay £50m for a new player, it stands to reason that you play him to his strengths to try to replicate the performances you thought worthy of the fee.
Impressive early audition
It might seem strange to some that Sarri has removed a player of unrivalled excellence from his preferred role and dropped him into relatively unchartered territory. It’s almost like telling the best drummer in the world that he’s switching to lead guitar.
However, if the early indicators are anything to go by, N’Golo Kante is destined to make a smooth transition from destroyer to creator.
In Chelsea’s opening Premier League fixture of the season against Huddersfield, Kante was deployed in a midfield three, just to the right of Jorginho who filling in as the anchorman. Freed from his usual responsibilities, Kante was free to explore the space further up the pitch.
His post-game heatmap showed that he largely found himself in the old inside right position, playing the part of trequartista for Chelsea, where he repeatedly joined the attack from deep.
It was from one of his forward forays that Kante met a Willian cross from the left to score the game’s opening goal at the John Smith’s Stadium. The finish wasn’t the prettiest – an awkward left footer than bounced early and looped fortuitously over the goalkeeper, but getting on the end of things is something Kante will have to get used to.
With that strike, he has already matched his total Premier League goal tally from last season.
Kante vs Arsenal
This weekend, N’Golo Kante’s takes another evolutionary step against Chelsea’s London rivals Arsenal. Having taken himself for a test drive against Huddersfield, Kante will be eager to see what he can really do from a more forward position against the visiting Gunners.
Kante’s new role is sure to have been discussed to death this week in Unai Emery’s tactical meetings and briefings and even though Arsenal have faced Kante before, their experience of the Frenchman thus far has been exclusively as an attack thwarter rather than an attack instigator.
Arsenal’s central midfield pairing of Granit Xhaka and Mattéo Guendouzi struggled badly last week against Manchester City and were often left exposed and overrun by the champions intelligent movement and ability to manufacture space.
Xhaka and Guendouzi again look ill equipped to cope with the running power of N’Golo Kante and the Frenchman’s influence could be key in deciding the outcome of Saturday evening’s clash at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal haven’t won in that part of London since their spectacular 5-3 win at the Bridge in 2011 and with their confidence already badly bruised after their opening weekend loss to Man City, a Kante inspired Chelsea could capitalise on their fragility.
“Yes, it’s a new manager and a new system,” Kante told beINSPORTS when quizzed about life under new coach Maurizio Sarri.
“I play a little bit more forward and I will give my best in this position for the team and I hope we can keep doing good things for the future.”
“Yes, it’s very true to be more offensive, to find the striker, to cause problems for the opponents. I think we started well and I hope for the next game against Arsenal we can have a good result.”
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