UC News

The N'Golo Kante midfield quandary explained

The N'Golo Kante midfield quandary explained
Why doesn't Maurizio Sarri switch to a formation which suits N'Golo Kante's style of play?

Follow your club now for first access to all our news, views and analysis

Chelsea

Follow your club now for first access to all our news, views and analysis

Man City

Sometimes certain styles of players don't suit the tactical needs of their manager. Gary Lineker left Barcelona because Johan Cruyff used him on the wing, Pep Guardiola couldn't make use of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and now, with Maurizio Sarri questioning the technical ability of N'Golo Kante, we might have another high-profile example.

Kante is one of the best players in world football and his World Cup medal and two Premier League titles should go someway to backing that statement up. In Sarri's Chelsea, he doesn't look it.

Why?

How Sarri's midfield three is supposed to work

Sarri-ball is the name and 4-3-3 is the game. Chelsea are always in a 4-3-3, built as a 4-1-2-3 with wide inside-forwards and overlapping full-backs. The defensive line is high to allow Chelsea to suffocate their opponents, counter-press near their opponent's goal, and chances are created via quick transitions and one-touch passes in the final third.

Jorginho is central to everything and acts as the pivot, holding court in a position between the centre-backs and attacking central midfielders - something rival teams have figured out and have addressed by sticking a man-marker on him, or having designated individuals mark him in a zonal system (if he's near the striker, the striker follows, if he's nearer the 10, the 10 follows).

Jorginho drifts and links passes from the defenders to the others in advanced positions and usually tries to pass forwards, dictating things from deep in midfield.

The two other central midfielders need to shift up and down the pitch on either side of Jorginho, getting into advanced positions behind the forwards while maintaining the shape. It requires players capable of playing one-touch quick football, who have vision, know the position and where to be when, and who can work their way out of tight spaces.

Why that doesn't suit Kante's skillset

Kante excelled at Leicester and under Antonio Conte at Chelsea because he was deployed in a central midfield position that made use of his weaponry. In this role, Kante ran everywhere and won tackles, recoveries and interceptions with so much enthusiasm and with such sixth-sense delivery, that it has often been said Kante does the job of two players.

He's great, perhaps the best, at reading play and winning the ball before bursting away with it. This suits a counter-attack strategy (sit deep, win possession and break), or a counter-press strategy (push high, win the ball, attack) but Kante is far better at carrying the ball than he is at distributing it.

A player like Ross Barkley or Ruben Loftus-Cheek is probably better suited to these positions, in the same way that Bernardo Silva and David Silva are suited to them for Man City. But you can't drop N'Golo Kante - he's one of the best players in the world.

This is where the argument for playing Kante in his best position alongside Jorginho becomes loudest... but doing that would fundamentally alter the style of play and shape that Sarri has introduced at Stamford Bridge.

Sarri's positional football means players are always in the right places to facilitate quick, passing football. Moving the pivot from near the centre-backs to behind the striker alters the passing lanes available and means build-up play often has to be more direct, or sent wide.

This is actually similar to Unai Emery's 4-2-3-1 at Arsenal. The key thing to consider is that if Kante is deep next to Jorginho, Chelsea have six players in forward positions as compared to seven in Sarri's 4-3-3 - something essential for both Sarri's attacking strategy and for winning the ball back in advanced positions.

It can leave Chelsea vulnerable defensively, certainly to counter-attacks, but this is Sarri's style of football. Furthermore, Kante's ability to win the ball so well means he is able to force turnovers in the opposition half and catch players by surprise. This exact situation happened during Chelsea's first goal against Fulham, with Kante robbing Jean Michael Seri before Pedro opened the scoring.

The solution

Last season Kante made 64.5 passes per game, 2.5 interceptions, 9.4 recoveries, 3.4 tackles, 80.2 touches and created 1.2 chances created.

This season Kante makes 57.4 passes per game, 1.4 interceptions, 6 recoveries, 1.9 tackles, 70.2 touches and 1.2 chances created. Everything is lower except for the number of opportunities to score that he manufactures.

Sarri won't change his formation because it upsets the balance of his strategy - the same style of play that has seen his teams perform so well and his own status rise - but, clearly, Kante isn't as effective or involved in an attacking midfield role as he is in a central defensive one.

Chelsea have players who can better do this job... but what sort of maniac would leave Kante out of their team?

Topic: #n'golo kante
READ SOURCE
Open UCNews to Read More Articles