How will N’golo Kante play in Sarri’s midfield?
Bringing Jorginho in his luggage, Sarri’s arrival will definitely change the Chelsea midfield and how they play together.
Here we won’t talk too much about Sarri’s style of play, you can find more in-depth analysis of the Italian manager in David Selini’s piece, but we’ll concentrate on how Kante could play in the new plan.
Jorginho and the Sarri 4-3-3
Used to playing with Jorginho in Napoli, there is no doubt that Sarri will use the Italian (born in Brazil) as much as he can – it’s already the case in pre-season games. The relatively young midfielder is an important player in the Italian coach’s gameplan: placed as real “number 6”, Jorginho is both able to gather the ball and provide breaking vertical passes.
The latter skill is one of the most important parts of the “Sarri ball” style, a mix of short passes to move the opponent block and vertical breaking passes to bring pace and speed in attack, reducing the chances of opposition adjusting defensively.
The passnetwork below show how Jorginho can be important in passes transmissions and also how he has “the volume” to plays as a deep-lying playmaker (often going very deep, alongside his center backs).
What about Kante?
Being one of the best midfielders in these last seasons, N’golo Kante will probably go up a notch. While some argue, with reason, that the French midfielder (3.3 tackles, 2.5 interceptions per game) will assume the role of stalwart Allan (2.8 tackles, 0.7 interceptions per game) in Napoli, there are some clues that might let us think that Kante can bring more than that.
Firstly, Kante is not only a ball gathering player. Though it’s where he is one of the best, he also has an incredible first touch and vivacity allowing him to freed from opponent pressing and being the first passer for an incoming attack.
In fact, he almost never played as a “6” position either with Leicester or in the France national team. He plays most of the time with a teammate playing a bit lower on the field: Drinkwater in Leicester, Matic in Chelsea. Therefore Jorginho is not going to “take his place”.
When playing beside Fabregas in Chelsea or Pogba in France, he is not at his best level.
Being the last midfielder before the defense doesn’t suit with his ball gathering qualities while this position is much more about slow down and blocking the opponent’s attack.
Kante is better when a teammate takes in charge the latter role, letting him coming from sides or even from behind the opponent to gather the ball as he knows so well do it.
Though he is limited in his proportion to “make” the game and his dribble skills he can also go forward, something Allan didn’t afford in Napoli.
In fact, N’golo Kante is very strong when it comes to deviate balls and play in one touch sequences, even in the last yards.
During his time under Sarri in Napoli, Jorginho didn’t play only as a static defensive midfielder but also as a hole filler with a lot of moves either horizontally or vertically.
These movements are parts of the overall tactic dictated by Sarri. The Italian manager uses a lot a kind of “gegenpressing” consisting in the press the opponent on a little surface – using touchlines as a twelfth man – with the whole team block involved.
Note that he’s not the only one to be adept of this tactic, Jurgen Klopp and Unai Emery also used it last seasons, with very good results.
Ngolo Kante fits perfectly to this schema thanks to his strong stamina and his short positioning moves. Tactically speaking this tactic end sometimes to seems like a 4-2-3-1 while the team is quite regrouped on the ball. Therefore when the pressing is over and the defense didn’t have the time to recover then Kante, like Jorginho, will be here to fill the gap.
In more defensive phases, Sarri usually set up a 4-4-2. Here again, Kante is the best profile in the current team to suit the position alongside Jorginho. While Sarri is not at all a manager that “park the bus”, he could change his mind in Chelsea, according to a specific situation and players.
One of the big confrontation this coming season will be Manchester City versus Chelsea games while the managers of both teams will play an offensive game this season.
While Jorginho plays often very deep, Sarri could surprise his opponent by building up a 5-4-1 in defensive phases. This lineup could be very powerful when it comes to stronger opponents (Manchester City for example?) and a lot of Chelsea players are already used to play in this way.
However, we will probably not see this tactic often as the Italian manager pays a lot of attention to his players taking pleasure in playing and offering an offensive show to the fans.
The third midfielder
Looking at other midfielders and we can see that it only remains offensive players or “ballers”: Fabregas, Ross Barkley or Loftus-Cheek. We don’t talk about Bakayoko while he will be the “B plan” when Jorginho or Kante will be injured.
In fact, these players are perfect for the remaining midfield position: they are all three skilled players, with strong abilities to provide top quality passes and are able to dribble and play in tight spaces when it comes to the last yards.
Fabregas is maybe the most suited to the position while he used to play a “possession game” in contrast to Barkley or Loftus-Cheek who are more physical and can travel with the ball up the pitch.
Once Sarri has shaped his eleven, he should not change much. Last season ten players from Naples started at least 30 Serie A matches, something that Chelsea players are also used to. Therefore he will probably align more experimented players, and so Kante. It’s not yet time for the many young players in Chelsea…
With a new style of play, Chelsea will probably be terrific this coming season. A lot of players already match Sarri’s plans and N’golo Kante is part of those who will probably perform very well through his new position into Chelsea squad.