On the 28th of November, The Guardian ran an article suggesting Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri is unhappy with the ability of N’Golo Kante. The printed story construed Sarri’s remarks as ungrateful – as though the manager does not rate his star midfielder in the slightest.
Sarri’s quote, however, specified the aspect of Kante’s game that prohibits him from taking Jorginho’s position in central midfield – a position vastly different from the role of defensive midfielder that Kante has established as his own in recent years.
There is no doubt that N’Golo Kante is one of the greatest midfielders on the planet and the player most capable of tearing up offenses and halting the play of opposing teams. N’Golo Kante also has a pretty large trophy cabinet to back up his game. He has won the Premier League twice (once with Leicester in 2015/16 and once with Chelsea in 2016/17), an F.A. Cup, Player of the Year in the Premier League, and the World Cup. The man is a force of nature.
That, however, does not mean he does not still have room to improve his game.
N’Golo Kante has never been a prolific goal scorer and has, on even fewer occasions, showcased his ability to create chances. His size does not contribute to his ability to be able to read the field well, and his lack of production in the final third is a result.
In previous seasons, Kante has not been called upon to push up the field as Antonio Conte often positioned him as a deep-lying midfielder in his 5-2-3 system. Kante was required to sit in front of the back line and stymie opponents’ attacking maneuvers. Under Sarri, however, Kante has been played on the right of a midfield three. Chelsea’s midfield this season is shaped like a triangle pointed at Chelsea’s goal. Jorginho inhabits the deepest position from which point he makes a myriad of forward passes that break the lines of the defense and lead to chances for Chelsea’s forwards. Jorginho’s role is often referred to as a “regista” – an Italian term referring to a deep-lying playmaker. In the past, this role has been dominated by the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Xavi. These players have a specific skill set that is crucial to maintaining the system employed by their manager.
N’Golo Kante is not a regista. Jorginho is. For the time being, that is the crucial factor that will keep Kante out of Jorginho’s role.
One has to keep in mind, Sarri had the time to perfect his 4-3-3 system of a vertical-tiki-taka style of play while in Napoli. During his time in Italy, Jorginho was the maestro in midfield who commanded the offense and acted as an outlet for the defense.
The fact that N’Golo Kante is not playing in Jorginho’s position, therefore, is not due to Kante being a worse player, it is that Jorginho is better equipped to contribute to the team if he takes on the role.
Also, if N’Golo Kante can take Sarri’s advice and improve his playmaking abilities, he will no longer be one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, he will have the chance to be the best midfielder in the world.