Watch out, world! N’Golo Kanté has had a taste of goal, and he wants more. Many more. His emotion chip has been activated, and he’s about to conquer all the worlds he hasn’t yet conquered.
“The last two seasons, I was more defensive. And this year, I can take a little more offensive actions and support attacks. It is always a pleasure to score and I hope to take pleasure in being able to repeat this kind of thing more often, because it ‘s a different feeling. It’s a pleasure to contribute to the win with a goal or an assist.”
Of course, as magnificent as N’Golo Kanté is, (re-)learning a new set of skills isn’t as easy as plugging into the Matrix and downloading a new patch. It takes time, dedication, hard work, and plenty of trial and error. And when results start going against the team, those errors open up both the coach and the player to criticisms.
Loud voices have complained that the best defensive midfielder in the game is being wasted by being played higher up the pitch. That’s not necessarily a baseless complaint, but within the context of Sarri-ball, the situation is not so clear-cut. Here’s Kanté himself talking about what Maurizio Sarri expects of him and the team.
“The coach wants a very offensive team with a lot of emphasis on pressing the opponent. That’s the general idea. Me, I try to bring what I can with the pressing, in the movements, in the runs. Making runs behind the defense. In the game, it’s playing with my back to the goal, laying the ball off well and support the attacks.”
“This is a position I played before, in Caen. I can enjoy this job because I have to try to be decisive and participate in offensive actions. I can improve on reading the game, making the right decision at the right time and using better technique at certain times.”
Nobody’s pretending that’s it’s been an entirely smooth transition.
After Chelsea’s dismal effort against Tottenham at Wembley, Maurizio Sarri explained where Kanté needs to improve, and since he used specific details instead of vague descriptions (like Conte often used to), his words were taken as public criticism. But Kanté says the coach told him exactly the same things immediately after the Tottenham game, so the post-Fulham comments didn’t bother him.
“[They were] things the coach had told me in the training that followed the match. These are things he explained to me and when he was asked the question, he repeated the same thing. It’s not something very serious: he explained to me how he wanted me to play, what he wanted me to do and I think it’s useful for the future.“
-N’Golo Kanté; source: RMC Sport
Kanté now has two goals and two assists on the season. He’s fast approaching his season-best totals. At Caen, in both 2013-14 and 2014-15, he put three in the net.
His goal against Manchester City turned out to be the winner and, at least for now, it has stemmed the growing tide of criticism. But unless Chelsea can find some consistency, they will rush back in.