Why N’Golo Kante will be key in new-look Chelsea’s quest for success

AP
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N'Golo Kante completed his $40 million move to Chelsea over the weekend and the Blues’ new manager Antonio Conte couldn’t be happier.

The Italian manager has made the French international midfield his second signing since arriving at Stamford Bridge — towering Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi was his first — and Kante will become an integral part of Conte’s new-look Chelsea from the get-go.

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At 25 years old Kante is in his prime and is ready to kick on to the next level after leading Leicester to an incredible Premier League title win last season.

Yes, Jamie Vardy scored the goals and Riyad Mahrez often created them but who was the man who won the ball back and then used it so efficiently so the Foxes could attack in the first place?

Ask any Leicester fan, or anybody who watched them closely, and they’ll tell you Kante was the heartbeat of Leicester last season.

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Conte knows it too and is ready to build his team around the late-blooming defensive midfielder who was playing in the French lower tiers until two seasons ago.

Speaking after Chelsea’s opening preseason friendly on Saturday, a 2-0 loss to Rapid Vienna, the former Italian national team manager spoke glowingly about Kante’s arrival at Stamford Bridge.

“I want to say Kante was a target and for this reason I’m very happy the club bought the player. He’s a good player. He has good technique, fantastic stamina and I like this type of player. If you want to win a team needs this type of player – Kante, Matic and Mikel – that work hard for the team,” Conte said. “We identified him, me and the club together, and I think Kante can give a lot to Chelsea, to enforce a zone which is very important if we want to play with two central midfielders. He showed last season he’s able to play with another midfielder.

“I think with this player we’ve reinforced the squad. All together we are working to improve the squad. We know we have to but we prefer to wait and go for our targets, rather than go with emotion and take the players who don’t adapt to our idea of football.”

Technical director Michael Emenalo has also talked about how Kante is a perfect fit for Conte’s philosophies and the Blues now seem to have the balance in their midfield correct with Kante slotting perfectly into their side.

Kante can play alongside a more destructive player and be the driving force, a la Danny Drinwkater, but is also a player who will run forwards and launch counters without being too creative or scoring goals or adding assists. He just does all of the simple things ridiculously well.

Chelsea have so many attacking talents who can do the rest ridiculously well. If Kante supplied a seemingly never-ending stream of balls to Vardy and Mahrez last season, think of what kind of service he can give Eden Hazard, Willian, Diego Costa and Batshuayi and what kind of damage they can do.

Just like Claude Makelele did in the past for Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and others to flourish, Kante will do the dirty work in midfield to intercept, tackle and set Chelsea on their way. True, he is more dynamic than Makelele was but the duo both play the same vitally important role, especially with so many mercurial talents at Conte’s disposal in his debut season managing in England.

Kante straightaway adds much-needed balance to this Chelsea midfield.

The only issue here is, where does Cesc Fabregas fit in? It seems like his days as a true two-way midfield may be over under Conte, a manager who prefers players in the engine room who can win the ball back quickly and shield the defensive unit. It is fitting he mentioned Kante, John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic in his comments as he clearly sees two of those three playing alongside each other at the start of the season. Fabregas will be pushed higher up the pitch and it is clear the Blues’ midfield now belongs to Kante.

Chelsea will no longer be a talented team of individuals who roll over and surrender just as they did far too easily for much of last season. Conte, and most importantly Kante, will add steel, drive and power to their core.

The Blues have picked up arguably the most influential central midfielder in Europe over the past 12 months and he will be key to their future success as a new era arrives in west London.