“I think he’s the strongest in the double-six, in the middle, in the heart of the game. For me, it’s a double-six because you can use your energy, your reach in your game, your ability to recover the ball. “
When Thomas Tuchel first arrived at Chelsea, one of the first questions he had to answer was how he viewed N’Golo Kante. The German point of view was simple. He’s not the only defensive midfielder Frank Lampard thought, and he’s not the attacking executioner Maurizio Sarri tried to make you believe.
He put it all together, and a little more.
What Tuchel did is bring Kante back to midfield two, similar to his role in Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 when he won the 2016/17 Player of the Season award. It was the last time Kante was a true dominant force, but he’s back.
He’s been exceptional since Tuchel’s arrival at Stamford Bridge, but he took things to a whole new level in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid.
Atletico were painfully boring on offense, but that was largely because of Kante, whose relentless pressure and determination kept them from building any form of momentum. Whenever they threatened to leave, Kante was there to put out the flames.
The scary thing about Kante is how he makes it all so simple. There was a moment in the first half where Joao Felix pushed his way through Chelsea’s defense and looked on goal, only for a retreating Kante to come out of nowhere and casually hold the ball to the goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and reestablishes order on the way back. Things went from 100 to zero very quickly.
He’s just still there. He is still everywhere. It’s incredible.
When praising Kante, much of the excitement goes to his undying endurance. Being able to rush the pitch so enthusiastically from first whistle to last is outrageous, but to suggest that Kante rely on his physical tools to dominate doesn’t do him justice.
Sure, he’s fit enough to charge on the pitch, but it’s his unfathomable vision that sets him apart from the rest. It is not just found in all danger zones by chance. Kante can sense the danger even before the opposition decides to try it.
Playing him at the base of midfield limits Kante’s brilliance as it tasks him with scenting danger only in a small part of the pitch and staying in that position for most of the game. He’s fine, but it’s like putting a Go-Kart engine in a Ferrari. He can do much more.
Now part of a midfielder two again, Kante has all the freedom in the world to do what he wants, when he wants, and the rest of the football world should be absolutely terrified of it. This Kante does not wear chains. This Kante is maximized.
“If you play with NG you always play with at least a half man more; that’s unique,” Tuchel said after Atletico’s victory. He knows what he has with Kante, and that is why he is using his forces. If Kante is in good shape, he can have this game-changing ability that hasn’t been seen at the Bridge since Eden Hazard, just in another area of the pitch.
No one profited more from Tuchel’s arrival than Kante. Sure, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger and Marcos Alonso are back in the fold, and Timo Werner and Kai Havertz are playing fine for once, but Kante has seen his superhuman powers restored.
He is no longer an average midfielder. He’s one of the best players on the planet, and credit goes to Tuchel for making this possible.
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