Is it Time for N’Golo Kante to Leave Chelsea?

By Ben Morris in Soccer
| April 27, 2020 1:59 am PDT
N'Golo Kante is Wasted at Chelsea - Where Should He Go to Reignite His Career?

When N’golo Kante won the World Cup with France in 2018, he cemented his status as one of the best defensive midfielders in world soccer.

Following back-to-back Premier League title triumphs with Leicester City and Chelsea, it seemed as though the diminutive destroyer was destined for years of ongoing success.

However, for various reasons, Kante has struggled to kick on over the past two seasons. Yes, he’s spent a large portion of the current campaign sidelined through injury. But when available, he’s continuously been played out of position, first by former manager Maurizio Sarri and now by Frank Lampard.

Having recently turned 29, Kante has hit a decisive moment in his career. Should N’Golo Kante leave Chelsea? Or should he seek a move elsewhere in order to reignite his career?

In this post, I look at Kante’s rise and discuss how he’s been used under different managers at Chelsea. I also decide whether or not he has a future at Stamford Bridge and discuss which clubs he could join instead.

The Rise of Kante – World’s Best Defensive Midfielder?

It’s fair to say that Kante’s move from Caen to Leicester City in 2015 wasn’t viewed as a high-profile transfer.

With Manchester City splashing out £55 million on Kevin De Bruyne and Angel Di Maria joining Manchester United for £60 million during the same window, it’s no surprise that Kante’s £5.6 million switch went largely unnoticed.

When the little-known Frenchman arrived in England, Leicester had just worked a miracle to avoid relegation. The Foxes were rock bottom of the Premier League for much of the 2014/15 campaign, but seven wins in their last nine games propelled the club to safety.

As you’d expect, Leicester was among the bookies’ favorites for relegation the following season. However, nobody could’ve predicted what happened next.

Guiding Leicester to Premier League Glory

It soon became apparent that Kante was a special player. The midfielder quickly gained a reputation for his tireless work rate and exceptional ball-winning prowess, while his ability to snuff out opposition attacks and make crucial tackles saw him pick up countless plaudits.

Along with the goals of Jamie Vardy and the creativity of Riyad Mahrez, Kante helped Leicester to secure the most unexpected title triumph in EPL history.

Kante forged a formidable partnership with Danny Drinkwater in the heart of the Foxes’ midfield, featuring in all but one of Leicester’s Premier League games during the remarkable title-winning campaign.

At the beginning of 2015/16, Kante was an unknown quantity. But by the end of the season, he was widely regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders of his generation.

Euro 2016 and Signing for Chelsea

Following a phenomenal breakthrough year, Kante was selected by national manager Didier Deschamps to represent France at the European Championship in the summer of 2016.

Kante had never previously played a competitive game for his country, but he shone in the tournament opener before guiding Les Blues through the knockout stages.

He played a starring role throughout the competition, and although he was unable to prevent France from losing to Portugal in the final, he announced himself on the international stage in style.

By the time Euro 2016 was over, Kante was being linked with a host of major clubs. Sure enough, less than a week after the final, he joined Chelsea for a fee of £32 million.

But did Kante make the right decision?

How Has Kante Fared Under Different Managers at Chelsea?

Kante has played under three different managers during his time at Stamford Bridge, but he’s been given different roles in each regime. Let’s look at how he’s been used by each boss.

Did Antonio Conte Get the Best Out of Kante?

Kante’s arrival at Chelsea coincided with the appointment of Antonio Conte as manager. The former Juventus boss — who is known for his defensive approach — immediately deployed his trademark 3-4-2-1 formation, and this system enabled Kante to thrive in his debut season with the Blues.

With three central defenders behind him and two wing-backs either side, Kante was tasked with protecting the backline. Alongside Nemanja Matic in the heart of midfield, Kante’s willingness to do the dirty work allowed the team’s attacking players to operate freely.

Conte clearly knew how to get the best out of Kante, and this saw both the player and the team enjoy a hugely successful campaign.

Chelsea won the Premier League title in 2016/17, with Kante claiming multiple individual awards. As well as being named the Premier League Player of the Season, Kante also became the first player since Eric Cantona in 1993 to win back-to-back top-flight titles in England with two different clubs.

Furthermore, Conte’s side set a new EPL record for the most wins in a single season, with 30 victories from 38 games. It’s highly unlikely that this record would have been achieved without Kante.

It wasn’t long before Conte’s reign at Chelsea turned sour. The Italian suffered a serious case of second-season syndrome and was sacked after the Blues finished 2017/18 in 5th place.

In retrospect, Conte’s sacking marked the beginning of Kante’s downturn in form.

Was Kante Misused by Maurizio Sarri?

After making a name for himself at Napoli as one of Europe’s most coveted managers, Maurizio Sarri replaced Conte as Chelsea boss in July 2018.

Sarri had guided Napoli to three consecutive top-three finishes in Serie A by using an attacking 4-3-3 formation. Unfortunately for Kante, Sarri insisted on sticking with that system when he took over at Stamford Bridge.

The change in approach saw Kante shifted to the right of a midfield three, with summer arrival Jorginho playing in the central holding role. Jorginho had just spent three seasons under Sarri at Napoli, so the pair already had a strong relationship.

Sarri’s arrival — and his bond with Jorginho — saw Kante’s effectiveness diminish. The Frenchman was being played out of position, and Chelsea was no longer benefitting from his strengths.

Sure, Kante’s record of five goals and four assists in 2018/19 is a decent return for a midfielder. But he would’ve undoubtedly been far more influential if he was playing in his favored defensive midfield role.

Sarri’s tactics were continually questioned throughout the campaign by supporters and pundits alike, so it came as no surprise when the Italian was fired after just one season in charge.

Many believed that Sarri’s refusal to play Kante as a defensive midfielder was a contributing factor in his sacking, and it’s difficult to argue with that.

Has Frank Lampard Utilized Kante Correctly?

When Frank Lampard was appointed as Chelsea head coach prior to the start of the current campaign, he had plenty of issues to address. But deciding where to deploy Kante was an easy decision, right?

After all, Lampard had surely been keeping a close eye on what had been going on at his former club, so he would’ve seen that Sarri wasn’t getting the best out of Kante by playing him higher up the field.

However, it’s clear that Lampard also favors Kante in an advanced role. The new manager has experimented with various different formations this season. But regardless of the system, Kante is invariably asked to operate as an advanced midfielder.

Lampard has used a 4-3-3 formation for the majority of Chelsea’s Premier League games this term. But it’s Jorginho that generally occupies the central holding role, while Kante usually plays as the right-sided midfielder.

More often than not, Mateo Kovacic is Lampard’s third midfielder. But Kovacic’s versatility means that he is comfortable at both ends of the pitch, so Kante’s opportunities to fully exhibit his defensive qualities are often reduced.

Ultimately, Kante has struggled to adapt to Lampard’s tactics, and this has had a negative effect on his performances.

Is Kante Wasted at Chelsea?

It’s clear that Chelsea hasn’t seen the best of Kante over the past couple of seasons. In a three-man midfield, he isn’t able to display his unrivalled destructive powers, while his lack of productivity in the final third doesn’t exactly warrant a place in the team.

Joringho and Kovacic have pretty much nailed down their places in Lampard’s starting eleven, so Chelsea already has enough defensively capable midfielders without Kante.

In a 4-3-3, there is only one holding midfielder. Jorginho is the man tasked with shielding the defense, while the other two midfielders are expected to support the attack. This means that Lampard needs Kante to consistently chip in with goals and assists, but that’s not his game.

Kante rose to fame by shining in a double pivot in midfield. He won consecutive Premier League titles and a World Cup with France operating in a defensive two-man setup, so suddenly asking him to play further forward doesn’t make sense.

Kante’s change of role may seem subtle, but it has definitely been detrimental to the way he goes about his business. The pint-sized Frenchman has been a shadow of his former self this season, and it’s difficult to see where he fits into Lampard’s future plans.

If Lampard isn’t prepared to build his team around Kante and play him in his favored position, then the midfielder may soon find himself surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge.

Where Could Kante Go to Reignite His Career?

If Chelsea was to offload Kante at the end of the season, there would unquestionably be a host of elite clubs battling for his signature. Here are some of the teams that could profit from signing Kante.

Does Kante to Real Madrid Make Sense?

Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane is said to be a long-term admirer of Kante, and I can see the midfielder fitting in well at the Bernabeu.

Zidane generally uses a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Casemiro operating in front of the back four. However, the Brazilian hasn’t been very convincing recently, so Kante would almost certainly be an upgrade on Casemiro.

Zidane’s system would allow Kante to operate in his favored position. As the sole holding midfielder, Kante would be able to demonstrate his defensive qualities without anyone getting in his way.

Kante has to battle with Jorginho and Kovacic at Chelsea. But in Madrid, he would be the main man.

Would PSG Benefit From Kante’s Services?

PSG has dominated French soccer for the best part of a decade. But for all their attacking power, the Parisians have failed to make their mark on the Champions League.

I believe Kante could be the man to take PSG to the next level. Thomas Tuchel’s side is lethal going forward, but there’s no denying that the defensive aspect of their game has let them down time and time again.

PSG already possesses one top-class defensive midfielder in Idrissa Gueye, but pairing him with Kante would create an almost impenetrable blockade in front of the backline.

Kante has proved that he works best in a two-man midfield, so he could revive his career by returning to his homeland.

Could Kante Shine at Barcelona?

Barcelona looks set to part ways with aging duo Ivan Rakatic and Arturo Vidal at the end of the season, leaving a gaping hole in Quique Setien’s midfield.

Like Kante, Rakatic and Vidal are both gritty players, so the Catalan club could be on the lookout for a new midfield destroyer. In my opinion, Kante would be the perfect man for the job.

With veteran Sergio Busquets also coming towards the end of his career, Kante would no doubt be given plenty of opportunities in Barcelona’s midfield.

Admittedly, Setien normally uses three midfielders. But instead of operating out wide, Kante could be used in the holding role to great effect.

Final Thoughts

It baffles me how both Sarri and Lampard have refused to accommodate Kante. Just two seasons ago, he was viewed as the best defensive midfielder in the world. But now he can’t seem to fit into Chelsea’s system.

With Lampard seemingly settled with a 4-3-3 formation, I think Kante should leave Chelsea. He is wasted in Lampard’s preferred system, so it doesn’t make sense for him to stay at Stamford Bridge.

A player of Kante’s ability deserves to be appreciated at an elite club, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he opts for a move elsewhere at the end of the season. In my eyes, a switch to either Real Madrid or Barcelona would be the ideal scenario.

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