N’golo Kante is respected very highly in the footballing world due to his immense energy, work rate, tackling and intercepting skills. Now these attributes show Kante is a phenomenal defensive minded player and a massive stir was caused last season when Maurizio Sarri opted for Jorginho in the holding role with Kante asked to press higher forward.
There is no doubt we saw a side to Kante never exploited by previous managers as the midfielder notched up four league goals which is one more than he had in his previous three combined. However, pundits and some fans disliked him not being the deepest midfielder especially as Jorginho is not the most energetic player. So why do I think we would struggle with Kante in the centre of a three man midfield?
Firstly, an argument often spoken is that Kante won two Premier League’s and a World Cup playing in Jorginho’s position.
However, this is just not true. At France after a struggle in the first game with a midfield three, Didier Deschamps changed to a 4231 system with Kante in a double pivot with Paul Pogba. This system won France the World Cup and did wonders for Kante who could make his lung busting runs forward knowing there was cover behind him. Also at Leicester he was never a defensive midfielder but once again in his favoured double pivot. Allowing him to press high up with Drinkwater sat behind him which proved so successful in their title winning campaign.
Now I do think Kante could do wonders in a double pivot but the deepest in a midfield three just isn’t for him. Kante is a ball chaser and probably the best in the world at what he does but asking him to play defensive midfielder in a traditional sense takes away his ability to press high up which brought him so much success before as he would now have to sit in and guard the back four.
Despite sharing similar attributes in terms of excelling at tackling and intercepting, the Makelele and Kante comparison shouldn’t exist. Makelele was a phenomenal traditional defensive midfielder who could patiently sit in guarding the back four and also was composed in ball playing. Kante on the other hand needs to run around to use his best attributes and this can leave us exploited at the back as was shown the one time Antonio Conte used Kante as a lone defensive midfielder. As N’golo tried to do what he did best Arsenal exploited the space in behind him and Chelsea were down 3-0 at half time.
Another aspect Kante struggles with is ball playing under pressure. Expected beyond doubt new Chelsea boss Frank Lampard does like to play out from the back and if he does choose a three man midfield Kante could really struggle to build the attacks in a dm role. Kante is a great ball carrier but press resistance isn’t his stronghold and last season he often did give the ball away under pressure or go backwards so asking him to be the main man to carry out the job could be a recipe for disaster.
Overall, if Lampard does opt for a 4231 system it would work out best for Kante who could operate in his favoured double pivot alongside another midfielder however if he does choose the 433 Kante must once again be an outside midfielder. We would still see his best attributes on show but allow a more press resistant Jorginho or Kovacic to build attacks from the back. Kante is a phenomenal defensive minded midfielder but holding on his own is very restricting and would leave gaps to be exploited which Chelsea can not afford to do.
By Joe Martin