N'Golo Kante - The 'Hybrid' Footballer
N’Golo Kante is a 24 year-old French international with bear-like strength who currently plays for Chelsea and formerly, Premier League Champions Leicester City Football Club. Kante at 5'6, can be compared in his stature and style to Claude Makelele who was also a French international and Chelsea player. They are both combative central midfielders who possess(ed) the ability to drive forward with magnificent strength and pace combined with the vision to make a penetrating pass. Their role is that of the defensive midfielder, coined 'the Makelele role' due to his perfecting of the position. I would assert that this area of the pitch is one that requires more discipline and rigidity than any other due to the importance placed on forming an impenetrable shield in front of the central defenders and the high likelihood to be drawn out of position.
Kante lingers a few feet ahead of his central defender waiting for the attacking team to play a ball into the middle of the park. Once the ball enters Kante, like a lion hunting their prey, attacks the ball with such vigor that he scare-mongers the opposition from attempting to penetrate his area with any authority. A lesson of note to young footballers is to watch how often Kante stays on his feet jockeying for position and eventually going hard into the tackle in an upright position; he very rarely slides or goes to ground. He uses his mental ability to anticipate the movement of the ball thereby correctly reading passes and intercepting or, at the very least, getting a foot in to poke the ball away. Always have your head up, on a swivel and be aware of your surroundings thereby increasing the prospect of obtaining control.
When Kante is chasing back towards his own goal attempting to catch one of the opposition driving forward with the ball he applies his physical acumen by using his body, mainly his backside, to step sideward in front of the attacker. He suddenly finds himself the closest man to the ball and consequently transitions play in the other direction. Kante picks the exact right moment to step between player and ball which is usually when they’ve taken a touch too many or a touch too far away. There is high importance placed on staying on his feet because this enables the opportunity to chop the ball into a position of offensive strength and quickly power forward. The video below exemplifies all of the aforementioned attributes.
Offensively, Kante can pick up the ball deep in his own area and strive ahead with pace. His smaller stature leads to a shorter stride however, his low centre of gravity and ability to magnetize the ball to his foot empowers him to confidently forge onward without being caught or knocked off the ball. When Kante is running towards his opposition’s goal, he picks his head up every other step or so to see the movement of his teammates to determine where to play his pass. This technique improved dramatically over the last season as he began to understand his teammates movements more astutely. For example, he often played through balls into space to Jamie Vardy who prefers to run onto the ball while when playing to Riyad Marez, Kante would play into feet as Mahrez is comfortable trying to beat players one on one. It’s important as a player to really understand your colleagues strengths and weaknesses so that you play them into a position of strength. This creates a greater advantage for your teammate and for your team in general. Be observant to the team around you and take the time to analyze and comprehend the abilities of others just as much as your own. For example, if one of your attacking players is stronger on his right foot make sure you direct the ball there to allow for a quicker shift into a point of leverage over the opposition.
Kante rightfully chose to move from Leicester City to Chelsea and his manager, Antonio Conte, is a master tactician who emphasizes shape and discipline as a unit. Kante is at the heart of this philosophy which is why, if he remains fit, I believe Chelsea will win the Premiership title this season. They not only have Kante in the 'holding' role but Nemanja Matic also. This creates greater emphasis on Kante to be able to maintain his defensive position but also penetrate forward creating an interchangeability between the two. The 3-4-3 system Chelsea deploy requires give-and-take mentality in the middle and they are beginning to express it to perfection.
Kante is truly the modern day midfielder who can defend and attack with equal devastation. He is a powerful workhorse with incredible clout and foresight - similar in characteristics to a Tasmanian Devil; a stalky, muscular and ferocious carnivore that weighs 20 pounds on average but can apply 94 pounds of pressure in it's bite. N'golo Kante is a hybrid footballer that applies his many attributes in equal affliction to whomever his adversary's may be.