N’Golo Kante made his first start since August in Chelsea’s Premier League clash with Liverpool on Tuesday night and featured for his third head coach in as many games such have been his injuries and the management of his rehabilitation. Excitement was palpable upon his entrance to the pitch at Stamford Bridge against Aston Villa, but starting a match against fresh bodies is something different entirely.
So, you could expect too much from the Frenchman but perhaps onlookers will have forgotten just what they expect of the 32-year-old whose contract expires in the summer. The midfielder’s lack of action would make it difficult for any concrete decision over his future, though the trajectory appears to be heading in the direction of an extension.
Would Kante be able to hit the ground running against Liverpool? football.london kept a close eye on the World Cup winner during his time on the pitch to see how he got on.
It didn’t take long for Kante to put in an early burst and ensure Kostas Tsimikas was under pressure from the off. He quickly won a free kick from that position with only a minute on the clock. It also wasn’t long until we saw Kante take up his position as last man when the Blues move forward from the resultant set piece.
The Frenchman was soon putting the Liverpool defender under pressure again and bullied him over to start a Chelsea attack that saw Mateo Kovacic almost put the Blues ahead. Kante also showed he could be tidy on the ball as Chelsea recycled possession and protected it from Curtis Jones.
Of course, there was a hint of the midfielder being everywhere too as he presses on the the left side forcing Joel Matip into a pass before tracking down Joe Gomez and making him panic too.
Kante showed he wasn’t frightened to work closer to home when he snuffed out a Liverpool attack as it reached the Chelsea box as the clock reached the 16th minute and produced a pivotal slide tackle on Fabinho from behind with the Brazilian seemingly not expecting his presence shortly afterwards.
The 23rd minute saw Kante once again burst down the right flank to play in Kai Havertz who provided a cross to Joao Felix which ultimately came to nothing and in the 29th minute, he turned cleverly on the ball on the halfway line and drove forward between Liverpool defenders before playing Havertz through but the German forward could only put it wide.
The veteran midfielder pulled off a great challenge on Diogo Jota as the Liverpool forward bundled into the box having won a challenge with Wesley Fofana but Kante cleared the ball well when he flung himself around the Reds star to reach the ball.
Unfortunately couldn’t capture the ball cleanly as cries of shoot rained down with Alisson out of his goal in stoppage time. Kante could only turn and try to feed Havertz who was in a very offside position.
Minutes into the second period once again Kante was in an advanced position and this time nudged the ball through to Mateo Kovacic who blazed the ball over the bar. He continued to show his ability to press high and won it off of Jones again before getting just a bit too enthusiastic and committing a foul.
The Frenchman further sent Havertz through on goal to capitalise but the former Bayer Leverkusen man saw it ruled out following a handball as the ball rebounded from Alisson on to his arm.
Kante persisted however and once again nipped at the heels of Jones to win the ball – much to the Liverpool star’s frustration and his dissent earned him a yellow card. The French star continued to operate as the most advanced midfielder with Enzo Fernandez mostly sitting in the centre of midfield and Kovacic in a more fluid position.
Kante lasted until the 69th minute where he was replaced by Conor Gallagher.
Did anyone forget how good Kante was? Everyone remembers his quality but sometimes it can be difficult to comprehend just how much ground he covers. The former Leicester star was a one-man pressing machine and it almost didn’t seem fair to Jones on occasion, or Tsimikas or sometimes players on the opposite flank. Simply, Kante’s return made watching football fun.
Breaking it down, Kante created three chances, won possession eight times and won five duels while winning every tackle he made., per Squawka. It was by no means perfect but it was a very, very good return. He didn’t bring Chelsea’s missing ingredient of a goal but he undoubtedly makes them better.