In a way, the comparisons are unavoidable. N’Golo Kante’s title winning tenacity in the middle of midfield for Leicester City last season threw the mysterious and misunderstood role of defensive, combative midfielders into a new light. Naturally, with plenty of new found attention on this area of the pitch, any man performing a similar role will be analysed in relation to the £32 million midfielder, and that is where Idrissa Gana Gueye finds himself at the moment.
Gueye was the first to dismiss these comparisons, telling Sky Sports that he is on his own journey, not wishing to pigeon-hole himself into trying to emulate the Frenchman. However, in performing a similar role, the Senegalese midfielder will be measure against Kante by the media, particularly if Everton continue their impressive start to the season.
So how similar are Gueye and Kante? Well, Kante’s role has changed at Chelsea now he is playing for a side who are used to dominating games and controlling the ball, limiting his defensive impact. Gueye’s Everton do not have this kind of luxury, although they are more used to being on the front foot than Leicester were last season. Even so, when comparing Gueye to Kante, it makes more sense to look at the Leicester edition of the French midfielder in greater detail.
The tough tackling midfielders share a lot of similarities in their stats and styles of play, but also enough differences to back up Gueye’s claim that he is a different player from Kante entirely. For a start, in Everton’s opening five games of the season, Gueye has made a whopping 6.2 tackles per game on average, providing his defence with incredible cover and getting his team back in possession. For Leicester last season, Kante was making 4.7 tackles per game, a figure that has dropped to 3.4 this term, showing that the Toffees man is way ahead in terms of tackling statistics.
On the flip side, Kante is a much more aggressive interceptor of the ball, suggesting as greater cognitive and positional intelligence on the pitch. Kante made an average of 4.2 interceptions per game last season, compared to a mere 1.2 from Gueye. Combining the two stats, Kante of Leicester was winning the ball back 8.9 times a game for his side, compared to 7.4 for the Everton man. Gueye edges the battle in terms of close combat play, but in terms of overall worth in winning the ball back, he doesn’t really match up to the Frenchman too well.
Offensively they offer much the same. Both are naturally defensive, and an equal amount of 0.6 shots per game is not a particularly surprising stat. What is interesting, though, is that Gueye has so far provided 1.4 key passes per game, compared to 0.8 from Kante, and also attempted 1.8 dribbles per game, compared to 1.3 from Kante. Everton are getting a little more go forward and drive from the middle of the park than Leicester got from Kante last season.
In conclusion, Gueye and Kante possess many of the same traits that make them such excellent purveyors of the central midfield role, but their areas of expertise are still widely varied. Kante is a more successful retriever of possession, despite being much less keen on a tackle than the combative Gueye, giving him the edge on the defensive side of the game. Gueye, though, possesses slightly more of an edge going forward, perhaps making him a better balanced midfielder than his rival.
Whether these similarities are enough to carry Everton to the same kind of heights as Leicester achieved last season remain to be seen, but in Gueye, Ronald Koeman clearly has one of the best defensive midfielders in the league at his disposal. With four wins on the trot, and a brilliantly talented side around him, don’t be surprised to see Gueye influential in a push for European places this season.