With Chelsea ten points clear at the top of the Premier League and not looking like letting up despite a challenging start to the season, it seems as though Antonio Conte is steering the Blues safely toward his first league crown in England. However, one player in the ranks at Stamford Bridge that has been the subject of much discussion is Chelsea’s defensive midfield man, N’Golo Kanté.
The Frenchman, who sealed a £30million move from last season’s champions Leicester City, is finding himself at the top of the Premier League tree again for a second successive year and is closing in on a Premier League record: that of being the first player to win consecutive titles with two different clubs. It is a feat that hasn’t gone unnoticed in the football world, and it begs the question as to whether or not Kanté, who also broke into the French national team for the first time last season, is the most important player in the Premier League.
In his 63 Premier League appearances for both clubs, the former Caen midfielder has been on the winning side on 43 occasions, a 68.25% winning ratio, the best of any current Premier League player. Adding to that the fact that for both clubs, Kanté has only been on the losing side in the league on six occasions, clearly, we have a player who doesn’t make a habit of coming second. Despite only netting two goals for both clubs – once for each thus far – with Watford and Manchester United the ungrateful opponents, Kanté has taken many plaudits for his tireless performances in midfield.
The defensive side of his game, which first came to our attention at Leicester, seems very much to have continued at Stamford Bridge, where he has continued to develop his growing reputation as a midfield engine, although interestingly, according to the statistics, Kanté hasn’t had to do so much defensive work since making the move to West London.
Throughout his 37 Premier League appearances for Leicester, the Frenchman put in a total of 175 tackles, 71% of which were successful, three blocks, 156 interceptions, 57 clearances, 27 headed clearances, and 326 recoveries. Compare that to the 94 tackles (67% of which were successful), eight blocks, 59 interceptions, 29 clearances, 11 headed clearances and 208 recoveries, and we can see that although the midfielder is still being kept rather busy, he isn’t having to put in anywhere near as much work. That may be in part, however, thanks to the extra cover of Nemanja Matic alongside him in midfield, and the added protection wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso offer the back three in Antonio Conte’s team. It is also an indication, though, of the freedom that Chelsea’s possession-based style of play has allowed him.
That extra cover in midfield and out wide first and foremost is probably the reason as to why the Frenchman has also been involved in far fewer duels on the pitch this term too. At Leicester, he won a total of 277 duels, losing 217, winning 47 of his 50/50 challenges. At Chelsea, he has been far less involved, with 151 duels won, 138 lost and a mere 27 successful 50/50s.
For a player who is still earning rave reviews for his midfield performances, and has often been a mainstay in Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week on BBC Sport, these statistics may seem surprising. However, the answer as to why Kanté is doing less of the dirty work lies elsewhere in his overall statistics.
Throughout his Leicester career in the Premier League, Kanté made a total of 1449 passes in his 37 league appearances, an average of 39.16 passes per game. The Frenchman also managed to rack up four assists for the Foxes, creating four key chances across the season, whilst putting in a total of 17 crosses, seven through-balls and 63 accurate long balls.
When looking into the same statistics for Chelsea, the results tell some story. In 26 Chelsea appearances, Kanté has already surpassed his total of passes throughout his Leicester career, with 1602, an average of 61.62 per game currently, with three through-balls, 107 accurate long balls and six crosses. Despite registering no assists thus far, putting fewer balls in from out wide and only having created one key chance throughout 2016/17, it is clear that Kanté’s role within the Chelsea side differs from the one he played out at Leicester.
At the King Power, it is clear Kanté was more involved across the board. He not only did the majority of defensive work in midfield to allow playmaker Danny Drinkwater the freedom to roam forward, but he was also expected to contribute to the attacking cause as well, and as his Leicester statistics suggest, he did so. At Chelsea, a side who play a far more expansive, possession-minded game, Kanté appears to have become more of a pass-minded player under Antonio Conte’s tutelage and has clearly enjoyed more free-rein playing this way.
The statistics do suggest that the Frenchman gets involved defensively when necessary, but he has been far less involved directly in the attack, but more involved in playing the ball, something which is to be expected with Conte’s defensive style. With two wing-backs who make the most effort to get forward in support of the front three, Kanté clearly has far less to do in terms of getting forward, which may explain why he is less involved in getting balls into the box from out wide this term.
Though where he has been less involved with Chelsea compared to his time at Leicester in going forward, the difference in Chelsea’s playing style has allowed him to become more involved elsewhere. He has netted a mere one goal for each club, but throughout his stint at the King Power, Kanté only registered 24 shots on goal, with six of those finding the target, an overall shot accuracy of 24%. All this came within 37 Leicester appearances. At Chelsea, where he has thus far appeared 26 times in the league, Kanté has exceeded his Leicester total already, with 24 shots, six of which have been on target, tallying up to a 25% shooting accuracy. He has also spurned one major goal-scoring chance this term, whereas he didn’t enjoy any major opportunities with Leicester other than the goal he scored against Watford.
With the passing and attacking statistics in mind, it is not only clear the Conte has moulded the midfielder into a player more suited to slot into a more dynamic, passing style in playing the ball out from the back, but it is also clear that the majority of Kanté’s duties are in the centre of the park. The presence of the marauding wing-backs means there is less need for Kanté to drift out wide, and the ability to remain central and push up to support the attack may well explain why he has seen slightly more action thus far in front of goal, despite not being directly responsible for creating anything as of yet. Given Conte’s emphasis on defence though, this may be down to the player sitting further back in front of the defence, rather than pressing and closing down the ball constantly as he did so often under Ranieri, even if that meant vacating his position just in front of the defence.
The weaknesses in Kanté’s game do seem to have remained consistent, however. Thanks to his limited height, aerial battles are obviously not the midfielder’s specialty. At Leicester, Kanté was involved in 95 aerial duels, winning 38 and losing 57. At Chelsea, given the presence of Nemanja Matic alongside him, Kanté has been involved in far less aerial battles, with a total of 54, but the losses still outweigh the victories, having lost 35 compared to the 19 he has succeeded in during his time at the Bridge. Despite this, throughout his time at both clubs, Kanté has remarkably never committed an error that has directly led to a goal for the opposition.
Kanté’s lesser involvement in defensive work at Chelsea, however, does seem to have had a slight impact on his overall disciplinary record. Kanté is yet to see red in the Premier League, but at Chelsea, he has received six yellow cards in 2016/17, double the total he registered at Leicester. With the Foxes, he also committed a season total of 43 fouls. This term, he has already reached 40, having played 11 games less.
This, however, can be expected given the player has been involved in far less of the so-called ‘dirty work’ this term. The statistics seem to suggest that under Claudio Ranieri’s style at Leicester, Kanté’s role was far greater and required a great deal more effort, whereas at Chelsea, a team that tend to monopolise possession and concentrate more on defending, the midfielder has become more involved in retaining possession, rather than having to continually press and win back the ball.
The defensive side of his game of course remains, but other aspects of his game have been able to develop and flourish under Antonio Conte and rather than re-enacting the role of a midfielder who is pure work-rate and pure-engine, the Italian’s style looks to be modifying the hard-working Frenchman into more of an all-round midfield-man. Within a squad such as Chelsea’s, where emphasis is put on defence, playing the ball from the back and enjoying the lion’s share of possession, it was almost inevitable that Kanté would be required to do far less defensively, but he has still shown that when necessary, he is ready to help break-up play, and has more free licence to remain central and support the attack that way, rather than drifting out wide as he did more often for his previous employers.
The statistics, therefore, shouldn’t be taken as a sign of regression, but rather of Kanté’s versatility. He has been able to bring the benefits of his work-rate and his defensive-minded game to the table for Chelsea, as well as growing into a composed midfield player who is comfortable on the ball and playing the ball around, as well as just breaking-up play. For the lesser work he has been required to do defensively, he has been able to offer more in playing the ball and getting the ball forward, which have enabled the vast audiences of the Premier League to enjoy some of the different aspects of his game. He is clearly doing something right given where Chelsea are, and indeed after what he accomplished last season and if he does go on to become the first man to win back-to-back titles with different clues, nobody could begrudge him of it. Is he the most important Premier League player? Debatable, but there is certainly a case for it.
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Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
The Spanish international has been inconsistent since his £60 million move.
When Antonio Conte sealed the signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid in the summer, many Chelsea fans lauded him as one of the signings of the window.
He was an instant hit at Stamford Bridge following his £60 million arrival, scoring on his debut off the bench in a 3-2 loss against Burnley on the opening day.
Morata has been most commonly used as an impact sub especially at Madrid, but at Chelsea, he was quickly given the responsibility of spearheading the Blues’ attack.
He repaid the faith Conte showed in him early, notching a hat trick away at Stoke in mid-September.
There was early talk of him being involved in a four-way battle for the golden boot alongside Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Gabriel Jesus.
Since then, it hasn’t worked out as well for Morata at Chelsea.
He went on a scoring drought soon after, although he did score a crucial winner against title rivals Manchester United in November.
He still received criticism, however, culminating in a poor performance against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, where he missed several guilt edge chances to give Chelsea the advantage.
He then played 40 minutes in the FA Cup against Norwich, managing to receive two yellow cards in a matter of seconds, first for diving, and then for dissent.
The cold weather has been blamed for his lack of form, as well as a back injury which at one point Conte suggested could force him to miss the rest of the season.
The English climate is different to what Morata will have previously experienced in Spain and in Italy with Juventus, although whether that can be used as a real argument is debatable.
He proved that theory wrong today, finishing off a fine Chelsea move in one of the coldest games of the season.
The Spaniard has looked bereft of confidence in recent weeks and months, and it appeared that Olivier Giroud had overtaken him as Chelsea’s leading marksman until today.
Morata proved his class against a Leicester side that, had it not been for a late mistake, would have taken the current Premier League champions to penalties.
His well placed shot after an excellent Willian through ball opening the scoring before an audacious flick hit the crossbar.
Although not at the heights of the likes of Kane (24 goals) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (28 goals), Morata has notched 10 goals of his own – a decent return considering he has missed a fair amount of games with injury in a team that is equally reliant on goals from wingers Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian.
With the cold weather subsiding, if that can be used as an excuse for some of Morata’s poor performances, and Chelsea’s chances of silverware increasing with an FA Cup semi-final, now is surely the time for Morata to produce some of his best form and lead Chelsea’s charge going into the back end of the season.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad
Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.
Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…
David Silva showed his class
The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.
If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.
He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.
It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.
They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.
Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions
Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.
They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.
On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.
The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.
Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.
He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.
Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.
He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.
Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.
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