Leicester City were not just the surprise package last season, they were probably the surprise package of the entire Premier League since its formation in 1992. The feat achieved by The Foxes last term is something that many fail to be able to put their finger on. The historically accepted “top four” failed massively to deliver for their supporters.
That being said, you cannot take anything way from Leicester and Claudio Ranieri who took full advantage of their opponents shortcomings. The transformation from the previous season is staggering, they were seen as sitting ducks for most of the campaign only to somehow claw themselves out of the relegation zone, living to fight another day.
Much of the plaudits were given to the partnership between Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, who notched an astounding 42 goals between them. Those two players that were unrecognisable compared to the pair that played under Nigel Pearson the previous season, but for many, it is N’Golo Kanté who was the glue that held the performances together.
Kanté was almost completely unheard of when he made his £5.6 million move from Caen to Leicester last summer, being just another one that slipped under many a radar. The French midfielder was undoubtedly the find of the season. Of course, you can mould statistics to fit your agenda with most things, but his numbers speak for themselves.
What would Leicester miss?
37 league games, 125 tackles won, 156 interceptions, 11 blocks, 68 clearances, 82% pass completion rate, 1180 successful passes and 30 chances created. It makes impressive reading, and you cannot underestimate the huge contribution made by the 25-year-old Parisian. The partnership between Kanté and Danny Drinkwater in central midfield was arguably as important if not more so as that of Mahrez and Vardy.
The way Ranieri chose to approach games meant that there was always going to be a tendency to over-rely on Leicester’s tenacity and solidity with playing on the break. This is a tactic that worked perfectly and saw them concede a mere 36 goals and lose only three times, eventually clinching the title by a staggering ten points from eventual runners-up Arsenal .
Can they ward off the attentions from the elite?
It is no surprise that Leicester will have a battle on their hands to keep hold of Kanté, as every Premier League side would improve with his inclusion. This is without exception. He does the necessarily ugly side of the game beautifully simplistically.
It has already been reported that Ranieri is set to offer the midfielder an improved contract of £100,000 a week to retain his services, but will that be enough to convince the 25-year-old with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United all showing an interest? The reported £20 million release clause would be a no-brainer for a player of his quality, as the elite look to bolster their squads for the coming season.
In recent days, Arsenal’s manager has himself come out to shower personal praise on his countryman, with Wenger clearly fully aware of just what N’Golo Kanté would bring to The Gunners.
“I admire and like N’Golo Kante a lot. He gives you ideas. He gives you the feeling that the higher the level he plays at, the more at ease he is.
“We are talking about numbers. He has the most interceptions in Europe and by far. He has incredible quality. He feels the game, only very few people can do that. He’s always where he needs to be.
“It is very rare to have that in the central midfielder. Not always orthodox, but always in the right place.”
Arsenal have been crying out for an enforcer in the heart of midfield ever since Patrick Vieira was no longer part of the playing squad, and while the towering former Gunners captain and Kanté could hardly look more different in stature, you can envisage the Leicester man carrying out exactly the same role.
One possible replacement is Nice midfielder Nampalys Mendy. It has been reported that Leicester have tabled an initial £8 million bid for his services. The 23-year-old would definitely fit the bill and is similar to Kanté in many ways; tenacious, reliable in possession, tough-tackling and of a defensive mindset. Mendy was ever-present for Nice last season, making 38 league appearances and helping them to a fourth placed finish in Ligue 1.
The odds of Kanté remaining at the King Power stadium grow longer game-by-game, he is part of the French midfield who are looking to utilise their home advantage in this summer’s European Championships – something that is only going to enhance his reputation on a larger scale. The tough-tacking midfielder helped the hosts to a 2-1 win on Friday over Romania with a solid midfield performance.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Alex Hannam