In the 34th minute of France’s World Cup Qualifier against Bulgaria, N’Golo Kante limped off the pitch injured; he was substituted for Paris Saint-Germain’s Adrien Rabiot. No clarification has been provided over the injury severity, but many fear that it could be a hamstring problem that’ll see the Frenchman sit on the sidelines for a while.
The Frenchman is a crucial component of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea setup. He’s the safety pin that allows the more creative players of the team to be free. He’s pivotal to how Chelsea break up play, recover the ball and initiate transitions.
We cannot understate how massive a blow this could be for Chelsea, let’s not forget that N’Golo Kante has been a part of two title-winning teams in back to back seasons. Not only was he present in those teams, but he was also cited as the key player in both those teams by footballing experts. The Frenchman’s influence on his team’s game is hard to completely gage, as statistics do not just define it.
At the moment, N’Golo Kante plays as a holding midfielder in a MF pivot with either Cesc Fàbregas or Tiemoue Bakayoko. He acts as the more defensive one of the two, giving the other midfielder license to roam forward. Not only does he shield the back three, he sometimes drops into the wing-back positions to cover for Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso.
In his 79 Premier League appearances, Kante has completed 69% of his tackles, intercepted 254 passes, made 670 recoveries, won 515 50-50 duels and made 0 errors leading to a goal. Such statistics have not been replicated by anyone currently in the league because N’Golo Kante stands on a pedestal of his own.
The talents of Nemanja Matić would have been perfect for Antonio Conte to use right now. The Serbian could have been a direct replacement for Kante, as he’s in the same mould of the defensive midfielder as the Frenchman. But seeing as the board sold Matić behind Conte’s back, the Italian will now have to tweak his formation to supplement Kante’s impact. Seeing as Cesc Fàbregas has a poor defensive work rate and Tiemoue Bakayoko is inept at positioning, Conte may have to switch to a MF 3, as Kante basically does the job of two players.
Instead of a 3-4-3, Antonio Conte needs to deploy a 3-5-2 that allows Chelsea to retain their width with two wing-backs, but also allows them to play a midfield three. This is where the unorthodox signing of Danny Drinkwater comes into play, coincidently the 27-year old returns from injury this weekend. With Drinkwater holding, Bakayoko in the B2B role and Fàbregas as the advanced CM, Chelsea can retain their defensive solidity without sacrificing their creativity.
N’Golo Kante’s injury is a massive blow to Chelsea, but if it’s short-term, the Blues will be OK for an away game at Crystal Palace this weekend. However, if it’s long-term, Antonio Conte will have to figure out a way to survive against Roma, Everton & Manchester United in the next 4 weeks.