World Cup 2018: France's most important player is N'Golo Kante, and here's why
It is not the pacey Ousmane Dembele.
It is not the adventurous Antoine Griezmann, who is so cool that he himself made a video to announce that he would indeed be staying at Atletico Madrid this season.
It is not the wily Kylian Mbappe. It is not the creative Paul Pogba. It is not Olivier Giroud and that magnificent beard of his.
It is not any of the glamorous players you'll find as wallpapers on people's phones. Instead, it is the shy, short contrivance that runs their midfield and goes by the name of N'golo Kante.
I understand the naivete of calling someone who has won 2 Premier League medals "underrated". But under all the allure of goals and highlight reels, the charm of fancy price tags and back-heels, it is easy to forget the impact he has on the game.
N'golo Kante will never win a Ballon d'Or, and I am not here to claim that he should. The award has long since been reduced to a PR stunt, and therefore meaningless and of little consequence. But on every trophy the team he plays for wins, there will be his name - written in sweat and tackles.
Against Australia - easy enough opposition on paper, but almost managed to spoil the French party, it was Kante who saved their blushes every time the ball was taken off from his teammates.
Griezman loses the ball in the middle? Kante. Dembele loses it on the left? Look to Kante. Mbappe loses on the left? Kante again. Umtiti makes a mistake? Surprisingly, and somehow unsurprisingly, there he was.
Against Peru tonight - the team Deschamps was the most concerned of, he took the recovery act one step further.
He ended the game with 4 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 clearances, 6 blocks, 13 recoveries and a 44/50 passes completed. What is more surprising is that he even managed to win 2 headers. You honestly wouldn't expect someone of 168 cms to win any headers!
At Leicester, Kante was raw. He was still great, but it was more of a brute force that forced him to win the tackles he did. His job there was simply to ensure that the opponents were relieved of the ball, and that was it. No need to come forward. It was a job he did to perfection.
After signing with Chelsea, you can see how much he has grown technically as a player now. Not only does he get the ball now, he knows where to send it, and whom to find with it.
He knows if Griezmann can use the ball better, or Mbappe on the other side. And when neither is, he bombs forward himself - something he did very little at Leicester.
During his season with Leicester (in the PL only), he put in 175 successful tackles and 113 and 126 during the two seasons with the Blues. At Leicester, he had 156 interceptions to his name and had 85 and 84 during his time at Chelsea.
Why are the stats making it look like he has gotten worse over the years? To put this into perspective, here is another stat. Unsuccessful dribbles - At Leicester, he had 34 while he only has 10 and 14 with Chelsea. That is because he has become a more polished player with time.
Coming back to France, the game against Peru was also an exhibition of his adaptive play. Deschamps switched from a 4-3-3 to a classic 4-2-3-1 with Pogba and Kante as defensive midfielders. Instead of a 3 man midfield, he was back to a 2-man DM combination.
Allowing Pogba to go forward, he played as the extra defender when Peru threatened to score, but as soon as the attack began, he moved slightly wider to promote the passages on to the wings.
If you want to know the importance of a proper defending midfielder, ask the Germans now. If you want to know the importance of Kante, ask a Chelsea fan today. They might even be okay with selling Hazard or Alonso, but take Kante away and the whole house of cards comes crumbling down.