When Eden Hazard departed, many believed Chelsea would move away from their reliance on one player. The club simply became N’Golo Kante’s burden.
Eden Hazard was the guy the club turned to last season (and many years prior) to get through matches. Hazard pulled the club together while contributing to a large proportion of goals. But there was a sense that without him, the club could move away from their reliance on one man to save the day. It did not happen.
While Chelsea’s attack is arguably more dynamic now that it is not funneled through Hazard, the defense is currently exposed without N’Golo Kante in the midfield to clean things up. Without Kante, Chelsea has been practically guaranteed to concede twice a match. The Blues traded being reliant on Hazard to simply become reliant on Kante.
In hindsight, this should have been clear as day as something coming down the road. Chelsea only had two world class players and when one left, the other took on the burden of being the man needed to change things. Many believe Kante is that man now and with him back and fit, the squad’s issues will all go away.
The fact that Kante is the only truly defensively minded midfielder increases the burden on the Frenchman. Tiemoue Bakayoko has departed and Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho, Billy Gilmour, Mason Mount, and Ross Barkley all have skill sets more suited to the offensive side of the game. Without Kante, the midfield is particularity open.
The situation has even reached the point where Frank Lampard has discussed using Andreas Christensen or Reece James in midfield. It is both a story on poorer squad building and Kante’s importance.
But the club was expected and really should be able to operate even if their star player is out. It is simply not a sign of a healthy club to be so reliant on one player to change things. That man used to be Hazard on the offense but the club has more or less been able to adapt to that loss. But the Blues are still looking for that adaption in Kante’s absence.
Ideally, Kante’s injury issues will be behind him when the international break is over. And when fit, Kante is capable of going 40 plus games a season. Lampard is not huge on rotation of his key players (see how many minutes Mount and Fikayo Tomori got last season) so it is expected that Kante will go the distance.
But Lampard will also need to find solutions if Kante is unavailable. The ones he has tried so far could work with more conditioning and better pressing, but the squad is not capable of that currently. Christensen and James offer solutions, but probably not the ones Lampard is necessarily looking for.
And of course, there is the worst case scenario of Kante finally hitting the wall. He has a lot of miles on his legs and he is very reliant on a skill set that will deteriorate with age. If these first few games without Kante are a taste of what a post-Kante Chelsea will look like, the Blues are not ready.