Following a stronger-than-expected start to the season, Chelsea came back to earth last weekend with a 3-1 drubbing from Tottenham at Wembley Stadium.
Dele Alli was one of the stars of the show for Spurs, winning numerous midfield battles with his Chelsea counterpart, Jorginho as the Brazilian-born Italian international was constantly overrun. The defeat increased calls for Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri to place N'Golo Kante back in his more natural position in the center of a three-man midfield, or in a two-man holding midfield pair.
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Instead, ahead of Chelsea’s Europa League match against PAOK of Greece, Sarri is sticking to his formula.
“I want to play a central midfielder who is a very technical player, so for me, the central midfielder is Jorginho or (Cesc) Fabregas,” Sarri said in his press conference. “I don’t want Kante in this position.”
In Sarri’s ideal 4-3-3 system, with a triangle in midfield, he wants the base of the triangle, the center, to be a player like Jorginho, who can set the pace and tempo of the attack and pick out a pass all over the field. In front, he wants two players who can attack and defend up and down the field, on either side of Jorginho. This season, Kante has been spending most of his time covering the right side of the field, instead of having the freedom to break up passes and make tackles all over midfield.
On one hand, Sarri has given a boost to Jorginho, who had one of his worst matches in a Chelsea shirt and will surely rebound from this and produce better performances in the future. On the other hand, it’s wild to hear a coach, with arguably the best holding midfielder in the world, not use Kante in the position to get the best out of him. Just like in American sports, with Sarri, it’s system over player.
“Maybe it’s only a question of time, but Kante has to stay near to Jorginho, especially when the ball is on the other side. When the ball is on the left he has to stay very close to Jorginho.”
For N’Golo Kante, he’s either going to have to adjust to playing more of a box-to-box midfielder role or potentially seek a move away from Chelsea, where he can play in his preferred position. With Leicester City and at the World Cup, he played in a 4-2-3-1, playing alongside another holding midfielder, while under Antonio Conte, he was paired in central midfield with players such as Fabregas, Danny Drinkwater or Tiemoue Bakayoko.