The Categorical Imperative of Kante

There’s really nothing simpler in football than understanding what to do with N’Golo Kante: you start him in every match and you play him right in front of your back four. In his last year at Leicester and his first at Chelsea, Kante was probably the most disruptive defensive midfielder in the world. He ran so much and so hard and so widely all over the pitch that his heat maps looked like Rothko paintings: great big blocks of red. When the other team had the ball he chased said ball until he caught it, then snatched it and passed it to one of his teammates. He played one role, and he played it as well as anyone has since Claude Makelele.

And yet now Chelsea can’t find a manager who understands what to do with Kante. Sarri tried to turn him into an attacking midfielder. In the first game of the season, earlier today, Lampard didn’t start him and then brought hin on — for Jorginho! — after his side had gone down 0–3. Kante is of no use when you’re down 0–3. The point of having Kante is to prevent yourself from going down 0–3.

As far as I can tell, Sarri wanted Jorginho to be his regista, and so preferred not to have that space crowded by another midfielder. So rather than move Jorginho up the pitch, he moved Kante up. That wasn’t the best solution, in my opinion, but there was a logic to it. It remains to be seen what logic, if any, Lampard will use, but my advice to him is: If you don’t want to play from behind, put Kante in and just let him do his thing.