Sarri, N'Golo Kante's midfield quandary explained

By Michael Duah
Sarri explains N'Golo Kante's midfield quandary
Sarri explains N'Golo Kante's midfield quandary

Sometimes certain styles of players don't suit the tactical needs of their manager. Gary Lineker left Barcelona because Johan Cruyff used him on the wing, Pep Guardiola couldn't make use of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and now, with Maurizio Sarri questioning the technical ability of N'Golo Kante, we might have another high-profile example.

Kante is one of the best players in world football and his World Cup medal and two Premier League titles should go someway to backing that statement up. In Sarri's Chelsea, he doesn't look it.


How Sarri's midfield three is supposed to work

Sarri-ball is the name and 4-3-3 is the game. Chelsea are always in a 4-3-3, built as a 4-1-2-3 with wide inside-forwards and overlapping full-backs. The defensive line is high to allow Chelsea to suffocate their opponents, counter-press near their opponent's goal, and chances are created via quick transitions and one-touch passes in the final third.

Jorginho is central to everything and acts as the pivot, holding court in a position between the centre-backs and attacking central midfielders - something rival teams have figured out and have addressed by sticking a man-marker on him, or having designated individuals mark him in a zonal system (if he's near the striker, the striker follows, if he's nearer the 10, the 10 follows).

Sarri's positional football means players are always in the right places to facilitate quick, passing football. Moving the pivot from near the centre-backs to behind the striker alters the passing lanes available and means build-up play often has to be more direct, or sent wide.

This is actually similar to Unai Emery's 4-2-3-1 at Arsenal. The key thing to consider is that if Kante is deep next to Jorginho, Chelsea have six players in forward positions as compared to seven in Sarri's 4-3-3 - something essential for both Sarri's attacking strategy and for winning the ball back in advanced positions.

It can leave Chelsea vulnerable defensively, certainly to counter-attacks, but this is Sarri's style of football. Furthermore, Kante's ability to win the ball so well means he is able to force turnovers in the opposition half and catch players by surprise. This exact situation happened during Chelsea's first goal against Fulham, with Kante robbing Jean Michael Seri before Pedro opened the scoring.

The solution

Last season Kante made 64.5 passes per game, 2.5 interceptions, 9.4 recoveries, 3.4 tackles, 80.2 touches and created 1.2 chances created. 

This season Kante makes 57.4 passes per game, 1.4 interceptions, 6 recoveries, 1.9 tackles, 70.2 touches and 1.2 chances created. Everything is lower except for the number of opportunities to score that he manufactures.

Sarri won't change his formation because it upsets the balance of his strategy - the same style of play that has seen his teams perform so well and his own status rise - but, clearly, Kante isn't as effective or involved in an attacking midfield role as he is in a central defensive one.

Chelsea have players who can better do this job... but what sort of maniac would leave Kante out of their team?

 Read also: European club power ranking: December 2018
Source: The telegraph