Reports of N’Golo Kante’s demise are greatly exaggerated

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N’Golo Kante was made the scapegoat of many following Chelsea’s draw to Manchester United. Reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated.
For as long as there has been written history, Chelsea fans have required a scapegoat for every game that doesn’t end 6-0 (and often times, even that wasn’t enough to stop the scapegoating). This season, Mason Mount has been a favorite punching bag but given he has been rested as of late, the focus has shifted to N’Golo Kante.

Apparently the United draw was the final straw for Kante. He is now washed. No longer fit to kick a ball after the draw, Kante must ceremonially be transferred away since he no longer holds value to the club.

Of course, that nonsense is shallow and baseless in reality. The stats speak for themselves. He has the second most completed passes, an 86.5 percent completion rate, fourth in the squad for passes into the final third, second in the team for tackles, the most blocks, and the most interceptions. But one poorer performance against United is enough to erase the entirety of the rest of the season.

There are stats and then there is the eye test, and defensive stats rarely show up on the eye test. It is the mistakes that stand out on that side of things with the best defender being the one no one ever notices. Against United, there is at least room for criticism, but the reports of Kante’s demise and demands for him to be dropped off the back of the game are very premature.

The main issue facing the French midfielder right now is how he is used in tandem with his partners. It is not as simple as saying Leicester City or Antonio Conte used him the way he should be used. It is more about the dynamic he has with Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in a 4-2-3-1.

The way Chelsea’s double pivot has been working, one player will drop deep to assist play out of the back while the other pushes forward more to assist the attack. When Kovacic is the partner, he does both which allows Kante to stay more static in midfield and read the game. When Jorginho is the partner, Jorginho only goes deep to assist which leaves Kante pushing forward to aid the attack. That was seen against United as Kante often got forward to help out. It was also seen how poor of a fit he is for that as he gave away lots of possession.

It is not as simple as just putting Kovacic and Jorginho together either because as a pair, they often leave the defense on their own. Both want to be involved in the play when their team has the ball, but neither is as interested when they do not.

But this article is about Kante, not Kovacic and Jorginho (though how Kante plays with them is important). One solution to prevent Kante from getting involved in an attack that he struggles to help would be to plant him deepest in midfield in a 4-3-3.

“Kante isn’t a defensive midfielder and never has been!” is probably the foam coming out of some mouths at this point. Does it really matter when he has the best defensive stats of the midfielders? Chelsea’s best run of play last season came with Kante behind Mason Mount and Ross Barkley. The two ahead could press the opposition and Kante could sweep whatever made its way through. That is a role that surely suits him better as he ages, even if he likes to press forward on defense.

Of course, the main issue here is the premature reports of Kante’s end. He very much isn’t done yet. Chelsea has added world class players to the squad, but Kante was the OG world class player and arguably the only one for at least two seasons. Why some fans are so desperate to shed one of the teams better players is truly a mystery when looking at the facts.

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