N'Golo Kante has not proved to be as influential for Chelsea as he was for Leicester last season. Is it down to the way that Antonio Conte is using him?
The French international was arguably Leicester’s most important player as they pulled off a shock Premier League title win, before making a £32m move to Stamford Bridge in the summer.
Kante’s work-rate and defensive ability was key to Leicester’s success, but he was no ordinary holding player. Instead, it was his midfield partner Danny Drinkwater that sat deep, allowing Kante to roam around the field and break up play higher up the pitch, where possession could quickly be turned into opportunity.
Drinkwater’s passing ability allowed him to control play from a deeper position. It was the perfect partnership, but Kante has yet to find the same understanding at Chelsea.
Most often paired alongside Nemanja Matic, it is Kante who has been tasked with playing in the deeper holding role. Though he’s been far from a flop, it’s fair to say that Kante has failed to have the same influence at Chelsea, as he adjusts to a different position.
These stats from the fantasy football game Oulala show the difference in Kante’s performances from last season, to this campaign.
One key difference is the increased amount of passes that Kante is making from his deeper role. Where he often drove up the field with the ball at his feet at Leicester, knowing that Drinkwater would be covering behind him, Kante is now passing the ball more and an increased number of those passes are going forward.
Kante is the player tasked with building play from the base of midfield. This is not just due to his positional change, but also because Matic is a less creative force than Drinkwater.
Yet though Kante is now playing in what might seem to be a more defensive role, his contribution in this area has dropped dramatically. At Leicester, Kante was making more tackles and the success rate of those challenges was higher. His number of interceptions and clearances has also dropped since moving to Chelsea.
That’s perhaps no surprise considering that the holding role at Chelsea is made more difficult for the fact that players like Eden Hazard are less-inclined to help defensively, than Kante’s former colleagues at Leicester. Occasionally he has been overrun, as was the case in the heavy 3-0 defeat at Arsenal earlier this season.
Chelsea fans might hope that another defensive midfielder could be signed in the future, allowing Kante to replicate what made him such a force at Leicester.
They idea of signing Kante may have been to find a successor to Claude Makelele, but for a player of his qualities it is another nineties midfielder that he should be imitating.
Set N’Golo Kante free and he can become Chelsea’s Roy Keane.