On ‘very impressive’ N’Golo Kanté’s new, more attacking role at Chelsea under Sarri Our beloved defensive midfielder has a new job

We’re only two games into a new era of Chelsea football and it’s already clear that the changes are going to take some time to get used to.
For one thing, we are now a passing-and-possession team. Under Maurizio Sarri, the days of parking the bus are over. He wants to defend with the ball, not without it. It’s early days but the raw passing stats already tell the story.
For another, we’re going to have to get used to an asymmetric system of play, with the focus being on creating an imbalance for the defence to cope with, and then capitalizing on it. The last thirty minutes against Arsenal, after the introduction of Eden Hazard and Mateo Kovačić, saw Chelsea focus heavily on the left side. It’s not a coincidence that Sarri put three attacking players there — the two subs plus his most attacking fullback, Marcos Alonso.
On the other side? His more defensively-skilled players, N’Golo Kanté and César Azpilicueta, with Pedro (or Willian, if need be) able to move to left to create the overload.
Which brings us to the point of of this story, change. For two years we’ve delighted in the magnificence that is N’Golo Kanté sitting deep in front of the backline, breaking up play and covering prodigious amounts of ground. He’s the best in the world in that role.
And he’s not going to be playing it much any more. In Sarri’s system, the weak-side midfielder is there to pounce when defenders get drawn to the overloaded side. We saw it in the first half against Arsenal, when Kanté drifted into the middle and got a shot off after Willian penetrated deep on the strong side.
As Sarri said after Huddersfield;
“He is playing like a centre right-midfielder and I am very happy for the performance of Kante. I am really very impressed.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Sky Sports
The numbers don’t lie. Sky estimates that while Kanté covered his familiar 12 kilometres, he also had three shots against the Gunners. That’s four times his per-game average from last season. On top of that he also created four other scoring opportunities, the most on the team. He had five touches in the box, according to Sky, which is a massive ten times his average last season.
With one goal to his name in just the first two games, he’s already matched his tally from last season. Nobody expects it to stop there. Sarri is positioning him to get good opportunities, like the one he gobbled up from the weak side against the Terriers
Which is all well and good, but if Kanté is playing higher, who’s going to protect the back line?
In the last fifteen minutes of the first half, Arsenal were rampant, tore Chelsea to shreds and scored two quick goals to draw level. That’s no way to win cups or even the top four. Something has to change, right?
Yes, agrees, Sarri. But it’s not Kanté’s role. The failure against Arsenal wasn’t the lack of a defensive midfielder, no matter how badly Jorginho was exposed or drawn away from the middle, leaving a hole that Arsenal gleefully exploited.


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