N'Golo Kanté, a virtual unknown *just a few years ago, was probably the most important player in the most improbably title win in Premier League history last season. When he surprisingly traded Leicester City blue for Chelsea blue in the summer, we felt like we hit the jackpot. So far, he's lived up to the hype.
"I think he's a complete midfielder, not only a defensive midfielder."
Conte did at first deploy Kanté in a defensive midfielder role, but after the back-to-back losses to Liverpool and Arsenal, and the subsequent rethink to a 3-4-3, Kanté has been given a role more akin to his role with the Foxes last season.
"You can see in the last three [league] games, N'Golo could have scored three goals. Against Hull City, that [chance] arrived off the post after Diego Costa's shot, against Leicester there was a deflection [on the goal line] and then he scored against United."
"He's a player that always arrives in the box. It's fantastic. He has fantastic stamina and also good technique, good positioning, good personality. He's a very good player."
"He can play box to box, but I prefer to respect the position [he is in]. I like when N'Golo goes to press. And with this system I ask a lot [of players] to press, to go forward. This I think N'Golo is very good at."
We've seen our fair share of midfield talent over the years at Chelsea, from legends of the world game like Michael Ballack, to players literally naming their own roles like Claude Makélélé, to the best there's ever been in the Premier League in Frank Lampard. Just to name a few.
N'Golo Kanté may not ever enter that pantheon, but right now, he's exactly what we need.
"I think now we are now in a good way to improve a lot and to become a team that can stay till the end to get something. Our ambition must be always to play to win every game. Always. It's important. I try to transfer this to my players in every moment, in every day, every week, in every game. We must be ambitious. But to be ambitious you must work a lot."
-Antonio Conte; source: ESPN
* Kanté's progression over the last four years is the stuff of legends and dreams. In 2012-13, he was in the French third division, a season later he was up in Ligue 2 and then up in Ligue 1, as he helped Caen to promotion. He was a statistical standout in the French top flight and earned his move to the Premier League, though given Leicester City's aspirations and their much questioned choice to appoint Claudio Ranieri, it was anything but a highly heralded move.