Maurizio Sarri and the N'Golo Kante conundrum
When Maurizio Sarri came to Chelsea, there was a sense that he would take Chelsea to the next level. Following months of drab and defensive football under Antonio Conte and with Jose Mourinho’s whiny third season still not completely out of their memory, Chelsea fans longed for a coach that could transform their attack.
They had seen their team win the title one season and then completely flop the next, not once but twice. So it was safe to say that the pressure mounted on Sarri to implement his style of football, one which had taken a talented Napoli team to the next level, was very high.
And boy has he delivered. With 8 wins from his first 11 games, Maurizio Sarri has adapted to life in the Premier League like a fish to water. Sarri and his coaching staff have turned a defensive Chelsea team to one of the best-looking sides in the league in less than a third of the season.
The Chelsea midfield has been one of the stories of the season with new signing Jorginho dictating play in every sense of the word. The Brazil-born Italian, who swapped Napoli for Chelsea just like Sarri did, has been a metronome for the Blues, keeping the midfield humming at an efficient pace and looking to create gaps in the opposition rearguard.
Fellow new signing Mateo Kovacic has also impressed in the early goings of the season so far as he has showcased his technical skill and dynamism in Sarri’s system. A rejuvenated Ross Barkley has gotten back to levels that made him a threat at Everton, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek continues to impress in whatever little chances he gets.
However, the same cannot be said of N’Golo Kante. Probably the best in the world at what he does, Kante has been forced to play out of position ever since Jorginho’s arrival. With the new signing occupying the deeper role, Kante has been shifted to the right side of a midfield three.
At the beginning of the season, this looked to be an inspired move as the Frenchman looked dangerous in attacking areas while still having enough energy to get back on defense. Sarri, in trying to mimic his midfield trio from his days at Napoli, played Kante in the role that would have been Allan’s in Naples.
Unfortunately, the two players are not exactly similar. While they both are energetic players who can help their team defensively, Kante is far more defensive minded than the Brazilian is. And it is showing. While Allan helped out Jorginho on both sides of the game, Kante is finding it to make his mark on the attack. While his late runs into the box help, the former Leicester midfielder is finding it difficult to replicate a role that places importance on passing.
To be fair, this is not knock on Kante. At Leicester and in his two seasons with Chelsea, he has proven that he can anchor the midfield and keep the ball moving as few players can. However, in his new role under Sarri, he looks lost when on the ball in the opposition’s half. Incredible as he is, Kante passing range was never his strongest suit and in this role, that weakness has already been exposed.
The 27-year-old has looked somewhat lost in attack and, while it would disastrous defensively to start both Kovacic and Barkley, one wonders how Ruben Loftus-Cheek might do. A powerful runner with the ball, Loftus-Cheek might add yet another dimension to this Chelsea attack. He is, however, defensively lacking, and with the Chelsea defense needing more help than Jorginho can provide, he will have to wait for his chance.
Chelsea, as of now, have enough firepower with Kante on the right of the three to overwhelm opponents with their passing game and dynamism off the ball. The Blues look defensively solid and offensively sound. However, as the season progresses and opponents get smarter about their movements, they will need to do solve this Kante conundrum.