EPL 2016/17: N'Golo Kante - Why the super ball-winner will be key to Chelsea beating Manchester United
It was fitting that the player who probably should have won the 2015/16 PFA Player of the Year gong instead of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez was the most outstanding player on the pitch as Chelsea overcame the Foxes at Stamford Bridge in mid-October thanks to a powerhouse display from N’Golo Kante.
Praised far and wide by various sections of the sporting press, it was a nice reprieve for him. Let’s not forget that it hasn’t been the easiest of transitions for the France international since his big-money summer move from the reigning Premier League champions to the Pensioners, but the signs of Kante coming into his stride were clear to see during the 3-0 home win.
Also read: Five great Chelsea-Man United games
Antonio Conte’s men are heading into their massive clash against Manchester United in search of a third straight home league win for only the second time this season and they will be eager to keep their recent momentum going. Getting one over the Blues’ old boss Jose Mourinho won’t be an easy task but if they do manage to achieve it, they can feel a little more confident about their title credentials.
Kante’s prowess should prove invaluable to the whole of Chelsea’s season, and against a defensive-minded Red Devils side, he could be more pivotal to victory than might first meet the eye.
Possession-winner won’t be over-awed by midfield battle
When the red half of Manchester rejoiced at the news of their record club signing Paul Pogba for £89 million, the majority of them probably expected events would transpire a little happier than they ultimately have for the 23-year-old. Their record transfer star has underwhelmed in the extreme so far, drawing some very negative criticism from the fans and pundits alike.
There have even been claims from the “Special One” that the former Juventus maestro is not untouchable.
Chelsea spent roughly less than a third on 25-year-old Kante and he has proven to be the smarter summer transfer window purchase. Indeed, there is every chance that the diminutive, Paris-born star will continue to outshine Pogba at the weekend.
Even when one argues that they play different roles (which they do), it is still difficult to successfully refute the notion that the more affordable performer has had a greater impact on the park than Pogba – there has been no limit to the older player’s effect as he has defended and set up attacks with equal effect.
It’s no secret that winning possession is still one of the ex-Leicester City player’s strongest traits, and he is unlikely to allow the occasion of mixing it against the world’s most expensive player to hinder his winning mentality.
For a Premier League winner, Kante is a really humble footballer. There are no frills, no dramatics and no antics from him – he simply plays football and does his best to put the team first. It might sound idealistic and a little too straightforward to be true, but that genuinely is the case.
He doesn’t chase after the big statistics, he’s not a glory hunter, he doesn’t assist very many goals and he scores even less. Nothing is guaranteed in football, but it’s almost certain that he won’t get drawn into a battle of egos, he will allow his performance to make his point for him.
Sure, the offensive side of his game needs some improvement because it would be nice for his supporters to see him add a clinical touch to his game, but right now fans of the Blues will be content to see him continue to turn the ball over to the likes of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Diego Costa to do what they do best by causing damage to the United rearguard.
Kante’s energy will intimidate United
Yes, the France midfielder will be key in distributing possession, and he’ll also have a massive say in how the game pans out with his midfield performances, but it’s his energy which will perhaps be the most important aspect of all.
It’s impossible for any player to have an omnipotent impact on any given fixture, but as Kante has proven in the past his energetic running can prove a substantial catalyst in earning three points. Not only does it allow him to buzz around with tenacity as he hassles dilly-dallying and overly-patient players into making errors in the middle of the park, but it also encourages his team-mates to get stuck in as well.
The new 3-4-3 system tested out by Conte in recent games means he has started to sit a lot deeper when they are defending than he did with the Foxes last season, but that hasn’t stopped him from popping up with some killer passes (such as the one he conjured against his former employers to set up Victor Moses to score), nor has it meant he can’t power forward to transition the plays quickly at times.
The Red Devils are expected to sit back and invite pressure from the hosts at the weekend, much like they did against Liverpool at Anfield, but that doesn’t mean that Kante won’t be able to influence the game considerably.
After all, United will launch their own attacks, and they are likely to come through a combination of Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and when they do, Kante will be ready to pounce by stretching the away side’s cover with his characteristic darting runs and clever passing.
More importantly, he has taken positively to the tactical tweaks introduced by the ex-Italy national team coach as recently relayed by Metro.
Personally I like the system too. My job in a defensive central midfield position is to cut off attacks against us, but it has been a bit different in the past two games as I have been able to get forward a bit myself.
His confidence will be sky-high coming into the game against Mourinho's men and that will mean a lot.
Plus, with plenty of United players still recovering from their Europa League exploits against Turkish outfit Fenerbahce, Kante will expect to run riot (and all afternoon long) against a tiresome and potentially deflated visiting outfit.
After all, United are already the team who run the least amount of distance in the Premier League this campaign and considering the amount of football they have crammed into the past week it’s unlikely they’ll be able to reach their collective team average of 105.1km per game, while Chelsea will expect to cover their usual 110km.
The writing’s on the wall for Kante to come out on top – fingers crossed he doesn’t get injured in the mean time, eh Chelsea fans?
(Video courtesy: DreamSportsHD YouTube channel)