N’Golo Kante has played as a box to box midfielder for Chelsea for two years now. Everyone needs to stop thinking that is what he is though.
As the days and minutes draw closer to the presumptive return of football in England there is one notion that every Chelsea fan should leave locked up and inside their homes even after COVID-19 is long gone; that N’Golo Kante is a box to box midfielder.
The reason this is all coming up now is two fold. One is because, before the break, Chelsea did not have Ruben Loftus-Cheek in contention to play. The second is that a notable not to be named North American sports publication listed some of the greatest midfielders by their “roles”.
Five players per slide, there were the “dead ball specialists”, the “long range passers”, the “play between the lines” type players and so on. There was then the “midfield destroyers’”and former Chelsea player Claude Makelele was right there, front and center.
Chelsea lovers and haters can all admit that Makelele was one of the best to ever do it, if not the best. All one has to do is type his name into YouTube and they will see the evidence from the games.
He was a beast. However, he was the only Chelsea player, past or present, player on the “midfield destroyer” slide. How is that possible? Surely this vast collection of midfielders, that had already brought up the likes of Andrea Pirlo, David Beckham, Kaka, Pavel Nedved and more could not have overlooked N’Golo Kante as a defensive midfield destroyer.
To my horror, the answer was revealed on the next swipe. Kante had been placed with the best “box to box” midfielders. He was one of five. Steven Gerrard another. Frank Lampard was inexplicably missing.
Put aside that Lampard was not in that collection of the greatest box to box midfielders despite his goals, assists, appearances and more. The notion that N’Golo Kante is one of the best box to box midfielders past or present is just wrong.
Do not get it wrong here; the Frenchman is extremely talented. If anything, his passing and vision is massively underrated but that is not what he does best. Kante is so good at being the ball winning midfield destroyer that commentators and pundits were considering renaming the “Makelele position” after Kante.
One does not get put into that rarefied air if they are not the best at what they do. The worrying part about this is that they are not wrong to place Kante in the box to box midfielder category. That is where he has been played for the past two seasons. He has done very well there, and he has chipped in with a few crucial goals and some great assists.
However, Kante’s success should be down to his individual talent and determination to change his game to fit the mold of the manager. One cannot fault a player for playing well in a role but it does not mean that it is his best position.
Kante should not be classified as a box to box and he should not be deployed in that role either.
Scroll back up to the first reason offered for why Kante should not be considered a box to box midfielder. Chelsea did not really have a player that could do that role completely. Jorginho plays that deep lying playmaker role, Ross Barkley is an enigma and while Mateo Kovacic is very good at the defensive and passing parts of the role, his final product leaves Blues fans wanting.
The return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek gives Chelsea a true box to box midfielder. A powerful runner, strong in the tackle and someone with an ever improving finishing touch.
Loftus-Cheek coming back into the side means that N’Golo Kante can, and indeed, should go back to what he was during his back to back Premier League title campaigns: the best midfield destroyer in the game.
Just like at Leicester and with Antonio Conte’s Chelsea. Kante can break up the opponent’s attack and move the ball quickly on to someone better equipped to find that finishing pass or shot.
Kante could do all of that himself for sure, but he does not need to and it is taking a toll on his body. The engine that never stops has spluttered this campaign because he is asked to do two massively different roles and everyone who watches the diminutive Frenchman knows he covers what two players could as it is.
Then on top of everything else, a backline shielded more by N’Golo Kante is a dream every elite manager would have. Kante has proven he can do it, now, for the love of all that is holy, play the man in the right position.
When football returns to England, whenever that is, Frank Lampard has to help everyone out and dispel the notion of N’Golo Kante being a box to box midfielder.