In his latest column, Dean Mears argues that Kante isn’t responsible for our draw against West Ham.
After Chelsea dropped their first points of the season to West Ham United on Sunday, supporters were quick to bemoan the lack of chances created. With some, including fancast regular Mark Worrall, calling for Maurizio Sarri to revert former player of the year N’Golo Kante to his natural position to free up an attacking space in midfield.
Since Sarri’s arrival, Kante has been moved higher up the pitch to allow new signing Jorginho to sit at the base of midfield and to dictate the play. The system has worked so far, with Chelsea picking up five consecutive victories before this weekend, and Jorginho picking up various Premier League passing records.
The midfield trio of Jorginho-Kovacic-Kante seems to be Sarri’s preferred choice, and even though the trio have struggled to convert chances, things won’t change. In Sarri’s system, each of the midfielders has a different role, Jorginho’s is to control possession, Kovacic’s is to link up with the front three and Kante’s is to win possession back higher up the pitch.
It isn’t Kante’s job to be getting on the end of crosses into the box or arriving late to meet a ball that drops to the edge of the 18-yard box. The job of scoring goals and creating chances is that of the front three and Kovacic. If we fail to create opportunities or score goals, it isn’t because Kante is playing out of his natural position, it’s because our attackers aren’t doing their job.
Having Kante at the base of this system wouldn’t work, because he doesn’t have Jorginho’s passing range and having Jorginho in Kante’s position wouldn’t work because he wouldn’t get the space to get on the ball. Balance is just as important as the personnel in any team, and if we had a goal scoring striker, this conversation wouldn’t be taking place.
Looking at our last two games against PAOK where Morata started and West Ham, where Giroud lead the line, it’s easy to see where the problems lie. In Greece, Morata managed seven shots; not one of them hit the target. I don’t like to mention him, but Diego Costa would’ve had four or five in that game.
And against West Ham, Giroud managed just one shot on target, missing with his other two attempts before being withdrawn just after the hour mark. Giroud, of course, is yet to find the back of the net this year, with Morata tied with Kante on one goal.
Of course, there is more to Giroud’s game than goals; his link-up play with Eden Hazard help the Belgian to two goals against Cardiff. The Frenchman’s presence and physicality helped France to win the World Cup without the striker scoring a single goal.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that a striker’s currency is always goals. And the issue of who leads the line for Chelsea will surely be Sarri’s biggest headache. As mentioned on the previous fancast episodes, Pedro is an option, and Sarri did reveal after the game that the team missed his movement off the ball.
Perhaps if his strikers still can’t find the net, then Sarri will go with Pedro as the striker, much as he did with Mertens at Napoli. It’s why Sarri has spent much of the early weeks of the season bigging up Hazard and tell his star man that he can score 40+ goals this season.
We all know Hazard is capable of this, but Sarri desperately needs him too because of the lack of goals from his centre-forwards. Let’s not forget the squad are still trying to get familiar with Sarri’s style. The Italian has said that Chelsea are at least a year behind Liverpool in our evolution.
Kante will adapt better to his new position, but let’s not forget it’s not his job to score goals. That job is for the forwards, so if we want to start pointing fingers, start from the front.
Written by Dean Mears – @DeanMears
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