‘N’Golo, I think he played an amazing game. We are used to seeing this and he’s a fantastic player. It is incredible to see. He made good runs with quality and he is improving a lot his passes and finishing. I think it is very important to see this player is improving step by step and improving his weaknesses. Now, N’Golo is a really top player.’
Those were the words of Antonio Conte as he assessed the performance of N’Golo Kante shortly after yesterday’s 2-1 win at Leicester City, with the Frenchman’s low drive early in the second half ultimately proving decisive as we moved up to third in the Premier League table.
How fitting Kante, so instrumental in Leicester’s title triumph in 2015/16, proved to be the match-winner at the King Power Stadium. When the line-ups were read out prior to kick off, his name received a huge cheer from the home supporters, and they certainly wouldn’t have been surprised by the quality of his performance.
His first goal of the season may have secured another important victory for the Blues but there was so much more to his all-round display in the East Midlands. Kante was simply superb. He was partnered in midfield by compatriot Tiemoue Bakayoko and the duo dominated that area of the pitch, with Leicester pair Wilfred Ndidi and Matty James unable to cope with their power, energy and intelligence.
There was one particular moment, midway through the first half, when Leicester attempted to play their way out from the back, but Kante simply wouldn’t allow them to. He hassled and harried, eventually winning the ball, driving forward and supplying a smart pass for Alvaro Morata, whose subsequent strike was blocked by Wes Morgan. It typified his display: brilliant both on and off the ball.
The graphic below illustrates just how influential last season’s PFA and FWA Player of the Year was.
On Tuesday we make our return to the Champions League when we entertain Qarabag at Stamford Bridge. Kante has never played in Europe’s elite competition and his talent undoubtedly deserves to grace the biggest stage.
Morata, who opened the scoring yesterday with a fine header, has enjoyed a wonderful start to his Chelsea career.
It’s now three goals in his first four games for the Spanish striker, all of which have been scored with his head.
Only Torino’s Andrea Belotti, with 10, has scored more headed league goals in Europe's top five leagues since August 2016 than Morata, who has nine.
After scoring three times over the course of Spain’s two recent international fixtures, he has now scored six goals already this season for club and country.
Long may it continue!