After just one game under Maurizio Sarri, N’Golo Kanté has already equaled his career high for goals in a season by scoring Chelsea’s first goal of the season last night against Huddersfield at John Smith’s Stadium. Deployed not in his usual position of everywhere-midfield (where’s he’s already
one of the best in the world) but rather more biased towards the right side and, more pertinently, further forward, Kanté regularly joined the attack as the second or third runner, popping up in positions where he’s rarely been seen before.
Take his goal, for example, where he made the far post run on Willian’s cross from the left flank. The driven ball was too fast and too high for Morata, but Kanté was there to collect and score the prettiest goal you’ll ever see. (The finish itself wasn’t pretty — on the contrary! — but it was N’Goaaaaalo so it was of course beautiful.)
Other than the goalkeeper, Kanté may be the last person we would’ve previously expected to find at the end of that cross. But we’ll have to readjust our expectations as this appears to be his new reality. Kanté himself will have to adapt as well.
‘It’s a new manager and a new system. I played a little bit further forward. I need to adapt to this role but I will give my best in this position for the team and I hope we can keep doing good things in the future. I try to find the striker, to be more offensive and cause problems for the opponent and I think it went well.”
Incidentally, this sort of evolution is exactly what Antonio Conte used to always talk about when the idea of Kanté’s strengths and weakness was brought up.
Not everyone was sold on the idea initially and the skepticism was probably justified, but as the team improved in the second half, so did Kanté’s play in general.
So far it's "U shape" galore and Kanté playing back or square— Sébastien Chapuis (@SebC__) August 11, 2018
As with much else under Sarri, there is plenty of room for improvement. But as far as first impressions go, Kanté did not make a bad one — we’ll ignore that one time against Atlético when Kanté played part of the first-half as the furthest forward of the midfield three, not to mention the preseason finale against Lyon where he almost scored, even.
“But we have to keep working hard in training and I hope in the next game against Arsenal we can get a good result. I think it was important to start very well and after the first two goals we managed the game in the second half. It was a good victory and a very good start to the season.”
-N’Golo Kanté; source: Chelsea FC
So say we all.