N’Golo Kante has been part of two title-winning teams in back to back years, and many would say that he was an integral part of both of those campaigns. His desire, hard work and positional awareness galvanise teams beyond a coach’s expectations. It’s that influence that makes him undroppable, but at the same time, it’s that impact that can make him impossible to replace.
Here’s why Antonio Conte needs to find a way to play without N’Golo Kante.
One player shouldn’t define a team; neither should his absence severely hinder their capabilities. But for Chelsea, N’Golo Kante seems to be their be all and end all. When the Frenchman picked up a thigh problem on International duty in early October, the Blues looked to crumble from then on.
In the seven games the 26-year-old missed, the Blues conceded 11 goals and failed to win three of them. That’s why the Blues looked like a different team entirely on the weekend, as they overran Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.
On Super Sunday, N’Golo Kante made 1 tackle, 2 clearances and intercepted 2 passes. In possession, he was just as useful, as he completed 90% of his 59 passes. His performance was impeccable, but his attitude and work rate also inspired his teammates to improve. As he sat in front of a back three, he gave Tiémoué Bakayoko the confidence to roam forward, allowing him to have his best performance in a Blues shirt.
Of course, it was good to see Chelsea return to their former level of performance and intensity of last season, but that type of performance shouldn’t hinge on the presence of one man. Antonio Conte should have systems and tactics in place to compensate for the loss of N’Golo Kante. Because now there are new fears that the Frenchman could be out with another injury in the near future.
The Frenchman himself admitted recently that he still ‘fears’ the re-occurrence of a hamstring problem he previously suffered, but he’s taking every training session & game as it comes. Kante told the press “I need more confidence because when you play after this injury, you have some fear.” Luckily for Chelsea fans, the Frenchman is taking his recovery cautious, but Conte must still find a way to play without him.
The main two things Kante brings to Chelsea are defensive solidity and work rate. There’re two elements you can coach, with the right personnel. At Chelsea, the Blues first team midfield options are limited, with Bakayoko & Fabregas being the only starters. Bakayoko has the work rate but not the defensive solidity, while Fabregas has neither.
Kante basically does the job of two men, so for Chelsea to succeed without him, Conte needs a 3-man midfield that has one holding midfielder and two box-to-box CMs. This is where the abilities of David Luiz would come into play, as he’s an all-rounder that’s played as a CDM in the past.
However, as one-star man re-emerges, another star’s career looks to be on the brink. The dropping of David Luiz against Manchester United seems set to have ominous repercussions. Antonio Conte stated before the game that it was a tactical choice. But after the game, he admitted he’s not sure if the Brazilian still has a career at the Bridge. We’ll see.