N’Golo Kante’s new role under Sarri

The arrival of Jorginho means a new role for N’Golo Kante in Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea system but it is one that he will relish, writes Adam Bate.

The signing of Jorginho was crucial for Maurizio Sarri. It means that the new Chelsea head coach has the playmaker from his Napoli team, the man who made more passes than any other player in Europe’s major leagues last season.

Jorginho’s presence should set the tempo for Sarri’s Chelsea and increase the chances of implementing his style of play.

With Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis accusing Sarri of wanting to take his “whole team” to Stamford Bridge, it is only natural to wonder whether a complete overhaul is being planned.

But there is somebody at Chelsea whom Sarri appears anxious to retain. Keeping N’Golo Kante at the club could be the difference between success and failure this season.

The World Cup winner is reportedly a target for Barcelona and Real Madrid but Sarri will have a role for him. The Italian is associated with free-flowing football but intensity is central to his system too and in Kante he has the perfect foil for Jorginho. The pair could forge a brilliant midfield partnership.

It does not require any great leap of imagination to envisage how Sarri will look to use Kante. At Napoli, it was Brazilian midfielder Allan who was entrusted with the box-to-box midfield role, featuring in all 38 league games for the club last season. He was the team’s ball winner alongside Jorginho in Sarri’s trademark 4-3-3 formation.

“Allan is an important player,” said Sarri in 2015. “He has great dynamism, excellent ability to intercept and an understated quality. He is a complete player.”

Former Chelsea boss, and Sarri’s replacement at Napoli, Carlo Ancelotti, has already compared Allan to Gennaro Gattuso but it is the similarities with Kante that are most apposite here.

No midfielder in Serie A made more tackles than Allan last season. He also ranked third for duels won, fifth for blocked passes and seventh for ball recoveries. Perhaps the statistic most indicative of his high pressing was that he won possession of the ball in the final third of the pitch more times than any other midfielder in the competition.

This mirrors the way that Kante was used by both Leicester and Chelsea in the player’s back-to-back Premier League title wins. At the World Cup, he showed that he could operate as a more conventional holding midfielder for his country, but his best performances at club level have come when he has been allowed to go foraging for the ball.

Kante’s engine is already the stuff of Premier League legend. His ability to snuff out opposition counter-attacks, provide support for full-backs out on the flanks and pressurise opponents high up the pitch makes everybody else’s job easier. “When he is at his best you have a 95 per cent chance to win the game,” said Eden Hazard recently.

Kante has recovered possession of the ball 913 times over the past three seasons – far more than any other player in the Premier League. It was a feature of his game when partnered with Danny Drinkwater or Nemanja Matic, letting them play as the pivot while he went in search of the ball. He could now revert to that role, albeit with even more expected of him.

Some still choose to underestimate Kante and suggest that he would not be ideally suited to the possession game that Sarri prefers. But these aspects of his game have improved during his time at Chelsea. Despite last season being his first in England that did not end in title glory, his own numbers hinted at his progress in other areas of the game.

Kante made more passes and increased his passing accuracy as well. He completed more dribbles and created more chances too. He has evolved as a player and is far more than a mere ball winner. He is a perfect fit for the Allan role in Sarri’s midfield. In fact, he’s an upgrade. Kante’s role will change but expect his influence at Chelsea to be as big as ever.

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