Kante: We can cause them problems

The Blues are at Manchester City today aiming to become the first visiting team to win at the Etihad this season, and N’Golo Kante says we will need to perform to a high standard both with and without the ball in order to overcome the league leaders.

Antonio Conte and his side return to Manchester for the second consecutive Sunday, following last week’s trip to Old Trafford, requiring a victory to maintain the pressure on those teams above us as we attempt to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Despite a good overall performance, we came away from the game against Man United empty-handed, meaning today's fixture against City takes on even more importance, according to Kante.

‘Yes, of course,’ he tells the official Chelsea website. ‘Everybody knows this game is very important after what happened against Manchester United. We are out of the top four at the moment but we have prepared for the game in the best way and we want to go to Manchester City to win.

‘We all know that Man City have had a very good season so far, they are doing really well, but we have quality in our team and we can cause them problems. We have to go there and try to win the game because we need the points.’

Kante boasts an impressive record at the Etihad having emerged victorious on his only two visits to the stadium, and he will be aiming for similar success this afternoon.

In 2015/16, with Leicester, he helped the Foxes secure a crucial 3-1 victory away at City, and last season he was part of the Chelsea team which came from behind to win by the same scoreline, the last time Guardiola’s side were beaten in front of their own fans.

‘My two matches at the Etihad have been two important wins but I think every season is different and this will be another different game,’ says Kante.

‘It was an important game in our season because we were losing 1-0 and then they hit the bar, so we avoided going 2-0 down, and in the second half we reacted well and ended up winning 3-1,’ he says, when asked for his memories of our victory there last season.

‘It was a game which proved really important in terms of keeping our momentum last season. It was a very good day for us and I hope we can get another good result there today.’

Today’s test is another big one, following on from games against United and Barcelona. The match against the Spaniards in the Champions League was one of the biggest club matches of Kante’s career, and the Frenchman received many plaudits for the quality of his performance against Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic in midfield.

‘It was Chelsea against Barcelona but for me personally it was the first time I’d played against them, and they are a great side,’ he says. ‘At the end of the game I didn’t think too much about myself, I just thought about the first leg and the fact it ended 1-1. We try to learn from that type of game and take it into matches like the one against Man City.

‘We gained enough knowledge and confidence from that game to know that we can do something against Barcelona but the second leg will be away and we’ll see what happens. It’s good to play these type of games in the Champions League, in front of our fans, and I hope we can go far.’

There were spells in that game, particularly early on, when we were forced to defend well as a team as Barcelona dominated possession and kept the ball. Does Kante expect a similar type of challenge against City?

‘They play good football but I think it will be different to the game against Barcelona because they are different players,’ he says. ‘We have prepared well as a team with the tactics of the manager and for sure every player has to perform with and without the ball if we want to have a good game.’

Kante has played consistently well over the course of this season, just like he did in his maiden campaign at the club, but while he was used in a two-man midfield, as part of a 3-4-3 system, in 2016/17, this time around there have been occasions when the 26-year-old has been asked to play alongside two midfielders in a 3-5-2.

The Frenchman explains how his own role differs depending on the team’s formation.

‘I think when we play with three midfielders often I play as the central figure of the three and my role is more to help the defenders rather than go forward, and to always be there when the other team try to counter attack or make a pass for their centre-forward, so I stay back more,’ he says.

‘When we play with two midfielders my position is a little bit different because I have to keep on one side, either the right or left, and the other midfielder defends the other one. Last season we played mostly with two midfielders. The 3-5-2, when we play against a team who has a lot of the ball, helps us to be stronger defensively and very fast on the counter-attack. Both systems have their advantages.’

Between now and the next international break, which falls towards the end of this month, we face important matches across three competitions.

Today’s game is followed by a home fixture against Crystal Palace next weekend as we aim to strengthen our position in terms of finishing in the top four. We then travel to Spain for the decisive leg of the Champions League tie against Barcelona, before an FA Cup quarter-final away at Leicester, Kante’s former club.

‘It's a big period,’ he says.  We have some good challenges in the Premier League and we are trying to get back in the top four, and we also have the two other competitions – the Champions League and FA Cup – which are good to be involved in.

‘We have some big games ahead of us and we have to prepare in the best way. We want to go as far as we can, for ourselves, for the club and for everybody who supports Chelsea.

‘I saw the draw for the FA Cup and it’s always nice to play against your old club, but myself and the rest of the team just want to go there to win.’