Playing as a central midfielder in Tuchel’s system requires you to make many passes during games. More importantly, passes under pressure. The burden of chance creation is not put on the central midfielders, but they also chip in when they can. Central midfielders are important for transitioning play and recycling possession, as well as defending in Tuchel’s system. Therefore, playing that role requires being comfortable in defensive situations and on the ball. They also have to be press-resistant to some extent.
Ndidi is more of a traditional defensive midfielder, but he’s more than comfortable on the ball. Kante and Ndidi have interestingly similar passing numbers. This season, they have averaged the same number of passes per game (47.6) and have the same passing accuracy (87 percent). They have both created the same number of big chances (two), but Kante (0.8) edges Ndidi (0.7) in key passes per game. Kante has recorded two assists, while Ndidi has three assists and one goal. Ndidi has attempted two through balls, Kante has attempted none.
Kante is a better long passer though, as he has attempted 4.1 long balls per game this season and completed 66 percent of them. Ndidi has completed 56 percent of 4.3 long balls attempted per game, though a 56 percent long ball accuracy is still quite good. Last season, Kante and Ndidi also averaged the same passing accuracy (85 percent), though Kante had a 7 percent higher long ball accuracy at 60 percent to 67 percent. Kante is clearly the better long passer, and by implication, a better passer of the ball as he has averaged a 68 percent passing accuracy since the beginning of last season. This is compared to Ndidi’s 58 percent. These numbers indicate that Ndidi is not only useful for breaking up play and doing the dirty defensive work, but also comfortable on the ball and not afraid to try more direct passes if he sees it as the right choice.
Kante has averaged 10.3 passes per game under pressure since the start of last season. Ndidi’s averaged 8.4, though this doesn’t say as much as it should because no one knows how many passes the players failed to make under pressure. It’s also difficult to know how often each player was pressured compared to the other. Kante has made 4.7 progressive passes per game in the time under scrutiny, compared to Ndidi’s 2.3. This may be explained by the fact that Ndidi often plays behind two more attacking midfielders at Leicester, while Kante plays alongside two other midfielders. Hence, Kante tries to get the ball forward more directly to the attackers, where Ndidi will just rather pass it off to the other midfielders, who’d likely be in better positions to distribute to the attackers.