Former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin is convinced a change in formation would help Maurizio Sarri get the best out of N’Golo Kante.
Sarri has come under the spotlight for his apparent misuse of the French enforcer, having opted to deploy him in a more advanced role to the annoyance of many Chelsea fans.
What is Sarri’s formation? Five key things to know…
- The Italian rose to prominence for his style of play at Napoli, enhancing his reputation for nearly winning Serie A last season.
- This prompted Chelsea to make a move last summer but the tactician is under increasing pressure following a string of poor results.
- Sarri is known for his 4-3-3 system, with Jorginho at the base of midfield dictating play.
- However, opposition teams have started man marking the Italian out of the game and Kante is having less influence further up the pitch.
- Nevin believes a change in formation would help Chelsea find the right combination, but Sarri has thus far proven stubborn to tinker.
The pint-sized pivot has been a revelation as a midfield sweeper since bursting onto the scene with Leicester City, winning the Premier League with both the Foxes and Chelsea, as well as the World Cup with France.
His defensive cover and recycling of possession gives his creative team-mates license to flourish in the final third, but Sarri has been reluctant to utilise the French midfielder in an anchorman role, preferring Jorginho as his defensive metronome.
However, Nevin believes the answer to the problem is not simply swapping the Italian for Kante, but rather to change the system by placing the two players alongside each-other in a double-pivot.
“He can’t play there and do Sarri-ball,” the Chelsea legend told The Totally Football Show (via football.london). “It’s really over simplistic. If you play him in that position, the 4-3-3 with two wide midfielders beyond him, he has to control the game.
“How many players do you know that can control a passing game from deep-lying midfield? Good luck if you mention any more than three or four in world football right now.
“Kante is fabulous at many things but not at this. If I was manager and I put a system in, I’d play Chelsea in a 4-2-3-1 with Kante sitting there with Jorginho.
“Then you get [Eden] Hazard central with Willian and Pedro either side, [Callum] Hudson-Odoi if you want, and you’ve got a striker up front, [Gonzalo] Higuain.
“Suddenly you’ve got three players that all want to get in the box and all want to create for guys. That is what I would do so I’m not making an argument Sarri is a genius and I love everything he does.
“What I’m trying to say is this is what he’s thinking.”
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Kante’s influence in defensive midfield
Upon signing for the Blues in 2016, Kante quickly established himself as a vital cog in Antonio Conte’s well-oiled machine, revolutionising the midfield with his energy and tireless workrate.
Equally for France, the likes of Paul Pogba have thrived because Kante is happy to carry the defensive burden, allowing others to focus on their attacking exploits further up the pitch.
Even last season, despite the breakdown in relations between Conte and the powers that be at Chelsea, Kante was a shining light, and his statistics show just why Sarri is being unwise in his use of the Frenchman.
In the Premier League last term no player made more interceptions (85), attempted more tackles (113), won more tackles (77) or made more recoveries (312) than Kante.
The final point is fundamental as his recovering of possession allowed Chelsea to break quickly and decisively, often catching their opponents off guard and stretched.
The 27-year-old also made the second-most successful passes (1919) and had the best passing accuracy of any midfield player (89.26%), proving he is a proficient passer of the ball and not just a midfield destroyer.
Finally, he won the second-most duels (191) and made the second-most blocks of any midfield player (four). Kante is quite clearly world-class and exceptional in defensive midfield, which begs the question why he isn’t being used in his best position.