N’Golo Kanté

Player Analysis
Nathan Clark

Nathan Clark

Like this article? buy me a beer


Favourite for both the PFA and FWA Player of the Year Awards N’Golo Kanté has already received more than his fair share of plaudits. But there’s a case to be made that a lot of that praise is misguided in the specifics.

No doubt that being a short, black, French, Chelsea player has eased comparisons with Claude Makélélé, but Kante was already being typecast as a defensive midfielder some time before arriving at Stamford Bridge.

Another recurring theme of praise for Kante is to compare his output to that of two players. For the second season in a row a team with a two-man midfield featuring Kante is dominating in a league where midfield threes are common; so the compliment isn’t baseless. It does, however, create the image of a Duracell Bunny leaving scorched earth in his wake – I don’t believe that’s accurate.

So the continually re-hashed quote goes, “Kante plays on the left, Drinkwater/Matic play in the middle and Kante plays on the right”. Not only does this focus all positivity in Kante’s game as athletic, rather than intelligent, but I think it’s also off on angle. Kante’s duality, if it exists, is vertical, rather than horizontal.

Far from the technically challenged midfield thug who’s sole purpose is to protect his defenders Kante is reguarly involved in both building out from the back and unlocking the final third.

This phase of the game begins the insight into what really makes Kante great – consistently doing simple things to the highest degree, all over the pitch and in every phase of the game.

The transition phases are where Kante shines the most. Simultaneously reading the game in a defensive and offensive manner so that a dangerous situation is instantly turned into a promising one.

This often manifests itself in the form of an interception which is also a pass. These are the skills coached into kids from a young age, there’s nothing especially complicated here. Again, what’s impressive is the consistency.

Praise for Kante’s defensive performances are often tied into the impressive turnout of defensive stats throughout his career. But these metrics are quite imperfect for measuring the usefulness of a player’s defending. More defending is not necessarily better defending.

In the above clip we can see Kante’s patience in waiting for the opportune moment to make his interception or tackle. The priority is preventing the opposition from building meaningful play. He achieves this through use of cover shadow, bending defensive runs, neutral positioning between two players and never over-committing. In the primary clip Kante continually forces Arsenal backwards and wide until eventually he is able to steal the ball.

Consistency, once more, is the key attribute. Maintaining constant awareness and instantly reacting with the best possible positioning, body shape and momentum not only across 90 minutes but multiple seasons.

Rightfully, this should free Kante from this image of a tireless, ball-winner, eating up a ton of grass and putting in bone crunching tackles. Alleviate praise of Kante to what he really is, a box-to-box all-rounder and a player of great footballing intelligence.

You may also like