Premier League: N'Golo Kante's tenacity healed Chelsea's midfield woes and bruised elite status
Having become the first defensive midfielder to win the PFA Player of the Year award since the launch of EPL, N'Golo Kante is showing the same relentlessness in breaking into the record books as he does getting into the face of his opponents
N'Golo Kante is everywhere! Admirers of the hard-tackling Chelsea midfielder have been morphing him into images, GIFs, videos from places all over the world in an attempt to glorify the Frenchman's already well-acclaimed impact on the Premier League. Be it running on the Olympic athletics track with Usain Bolt, to featuring in classic war scenes in movies to even running on the moon, nothing has been spared.
While those visuals are anything but exaggeration, such has been Kante's presence on a football field that the efforts of many of these techno-geeks would have saved had the entire world been a football pitch as when on one, he literally is everywhere.
Having covered every blade of grass on the Wembley pitch in Chelsea's 4-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, Kante put his feet on the pedestal for players playing in England, by winning the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year award.
Kante has been key in Chelsea maintaining their stranglehold of the Premier League summit, but the reward to a certain extent is also a token of appreciation for his efforts in guiding Leicester to the title last season, when he was pipped to the award by the more flamboyant Riyad Mahrez.
While Chelsea have had a fair equivalent in Eden Hazard, it's Kante that has truly transformed Chelsea from a mid-table team last campaign to champions-elect this year.
Chelsea had problems all over the pitch previous term, but at the heart of it was a broken midfield pairing of Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas that had effectively guided the Blues to the title a year before. The cracks did appear at the fag end of that season and by the time Chelsea returned to action in August, the pairing was already redundant.
Fabregas and Matic lacked the energy and fight at the middle of the park to carry out the defensive part of their jobs. That resulted in Chelsea being cut apart through the middle in so many of their matches. The Blues struggled to win possession back early — something which was their strength in the early days of that partnership — and that rendered their game plan useless.
Kante with all his relentless tenacity proved to be a one-shot solution to all these problems.
Chelsea who were fifteenth in the table for conceding the least number of shots on target in 2015/16, are up to third in the same charts this season. That's down to the tightening up in the midfield area, which in turn is largely down to Kante.
Another vital reason for Chelsea's re-emergence among the Premier League's elite has been the change of system. The new 3-4-3 system which Chelsea deploy adds extra pressure on the central midfielders to cover for the wing backs who have to join the forwards in attack to give the team the right balance.
In the second half alone, Kante was 12/12 on tackles including 7 in the Liverpool half pic.twitter.com/BmG7aeg5Br
— Saturdays on Couch (@SaturdayOnCouch) January 31, 2017
The above tweet shows Kante's tackle map in the second half of the game against Liverpool at Anfield where he made 16 tackles in all, the most by any Premier League player in a single game this season.
This is where Kante has earned his bread. If you look carefully at the areas where he was won those tackles, a lot of them have been out wide where he was filling the space behind Chelsea's wing backs. It is hardly surprising that rarely have teams been able to expose those gaps that they often vacate while venturing forward in attack.
The Frenchman's numbers make stellar reading too. He is second in the number of tackles made (110) — only behind Everton's Idrissa Gueye — and third in number of tackles per game (3.5). He's tackled with a excellent success rate of 66 percent.
Kante is seventh in the list of the most interceptions (72) made by a player in the Premier League this season and also the league's fifth highest passer with a success rate of 88.8 percent. The passing statistics might be slightly misleading considering he plays in a position where there is less pressure on the ball, but it's still worth appreciating.
Few may argue that he doesn't lead any of these charts but being among the pacesetters in so many of them is a brilliant combination to have. Antonio Conte will tell you that. In fact, the Italian was at a loss for an answer when asked about the areas where Kante could improve.
"I have to find one situation to tell him to improve. He's playing very well. N'Golo is a really good player," Conte said earlier this season.
The former Leicester man scored just two goals this season and that's perhaps one area where one could look at if one's digging deep to find flaws in his game. He did score an absolute cracker against Manchester United to send Chelsea into the FA Cup semifinals, and if his goals, albeit few in numbers, can have such a massive impact then he would pretty much have it all.
Kante hasn't just ensured that Chelsea's midfield woes are a thing of the past, he's played a pivotal role is fixing Chelsea's elite status which lay broken after the disastrous campaign last year. The Frenchman now stands on the cusp of being the only player in the Premier League era to win back-to-back titles with two different clubs.
Having also become the first ever defensive midfielder to win the PFA Player of the Year Award since the launch of the Premier League, and the only one apart from Peter Reid to do so in English top-flight history, Kante is showing the same relentlessness in breaking into the record books as he does getting into the face of his opponents.
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Left-back Rose, 30, was released at the end of his Spurs contract, having spent last season training with the club's under-23s.
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