N'Golo Kante's Move to Chelsea From Leicester City Has Had a Big Impact on Both Clubs
N'Golo Kante has had a pretty crazy last two seasons, and so have his teams.
Last season, Kante was a key cog on a historic Leicester City side, which shocked the soccer world with an incredible Premier League title. The Foxes cashed in this past offseason on their savvy Â£5.6 million investment, selling Kante to Chelsea for a reported Â£32 million.
While it was a good bit of business as far as turning a profit, Leicester City have struggled mightily this season and currently sit just two points clear of the drop zone 23 matches into the campaign.
Meanwhile, Chelsea, after an uncharacteristic 10th-place finish in 2015-16, are running away in the Premier League title race this season, currently nine points clear of the field.
Kante is the real winner in all of this. He tripled his wages with the move to Chelsea, according to reports, and he's in position to be just the second player in Premier League history to win back-to-back league titles with different clubs.
That would be a pretty incredible two-season span for any player, nonetheless for a guy who was playing for Caen in France's Ligue 2 -- the second tier of French professional soccer -- as recently as the 2013-14 campaign and had played just one season in any of Europe's top five domestic leagues (Italy, Spain, Germany, France and England) prior to the move to Leicester City.
Statistically, how much of an impact has Kante had on Leicester and Chelsea the past two seasons? Is winning the Premier League title as simple as having this omnipresent defensive midfielder in the starting XI?
Let's take a look.
A Devastating Loss
Leicester City wasn't your average Premier League champ for, oh, about three million reasons, but one of those was that the Foxes had a lot less of the ball than the typical title-winning side. Leicester finished last season with a possession rate of 44.8%, the third-worst clip in the league.
Choosing to sit back and play on the counter fit them well -- it was especially well-suited for the pace of striker Jamie Vardy -- but it also put immense strain on Leicester's defensive corps. Not only were the defenders constantly absorbing pressure back in their own third, but for the Foxes to break quickly and pounce on the counter, they first had to win the ball from their opponent.
That's where Kante came in.
A tireless blur, Kante led the Premier League in both tackles (4.7) and interceptions (4.2) per match last season, per WhoScored.com.
His gnat-like qualities can be seen in the video below. Despite standing just 5'7" and weighing 150 pounds, Kante has never met a challenge he didn't like, and his relentless pursuit -- and eventual capture -- of the ball started many of Leicester's signature counters.
Sure, because of Leicester's tactics, Kante got more chances to rack up defensive statistics, but if that was the driving force behind his outstanding numbers, it stands to reason someone on Leicester would have impressive defensive numbers this season, when the Foxes are essentially playing the same style (43.7% possession).
That's not the case, as both their leading tackler (3.4) and leading interceptor (2.1) -- who are two different players -- pale in comparison to what Kante did a year ago.
Also, Kante displayed an impressive track record before moving to Leicester, even if it was brief. In his only year in Ligue 1, he led the league in combined tackles (4.8) and interceptions (2.9), thwarting attacks just like he did when he came to England.
Kante's impact is mind-bogglingly apparent when we look at Leicester's per-match stats from the past two seasons.
|Year||Tackles||Interceptions||Fouls||Shots||Shots Allowed||Goals Allowed|
Not all of Leicester's massive regression can be blamed on losing Kante -- Vardy and Riyad Mahrez haven't been nearly as productive -- but the numbers with and without him are pretty staggering.
Per match, the Foxes made 6.9 more tackles and 7.4 more interceptions with Kante in the side. While they're winning the ball less this year, they're also fouling roughly once more per contest, and the absence of his ball-winning has also hurt Leicester's attack -- they've generated 2.7 fewer shots per match this season.
Overall, the Foxes are allowing 0.70 more goals per game this year. They've given up 38 goals in 23 matches after surrendering just 36 goals in 38 matches on their way to lifting the trophy in 2015-16.
A Valuable Addition
While Leicester wasn't your average title winner a year ago, Chelsea wasn't the typical 10th-place side. With world-class stars such as Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, the Blues won the 2014-15 league crown only to fall to pieces last season, struggling to a mid-table campaign and firing renowned manager Jose Mourinho midseason.
They were always going to bounce back this year, but boy, have they ever bounced back. As we touched on earlier, Chelsea are turning the title chase into a laugher, nine points clear of Spurs and Arsenal, the two teams tied for second place.
Antonio Conte's tactics, namely a three-man back line, have meshed perfectly with the Blues' personnel, and he's gotten Costa and Hazard to return to top form.
The addition of Kante has been a great supplement to what was already a very good Chelsea side.
With a 53.7% possession clip, the Blues possess the ball quite a bit more than Leicester, so Kante doesn't have the same amount of volume when it comes to his chances to rack up defensive numbers. He's still averaging 3.5 tackles and 2.5 interceptions, though, both of which lead the team.
His 3.5 tackles per game are 1.3 more than any other Blues player, and among Premier League players who have appeared in at least 20 matches this year, Kante still ranks highly in both tackles (second) and interceptions (sixth) per match.
Looking at Chelsea's per-match stats, the tackles are down, but everything else is better this year than it was a year ago.
|Year||Tackles||Interceptions||Fouls||Shots||Shots Allowed||Goals Allowed|
Obviously, the Blues' defense is much better overall with Kante in tow, giving up 4.3 less shots per game while allowing 0.62 fewer goals. That's pretty astounding, and remember: Leicester is allowing 0.70 more goals per match this season than they were with Kante.
He and fellow defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic have been middle-of-the-pitch stalwarts for the Blues. Matic is averaging 58.1 passes per game and completing 88% of them while Kante is completing 87.9% of his 61.5 passes per match. Among players who have appeared in at least 20 Premier League matches this season, Matic and Kante rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in pass success rate.
Never was Kante's impact on Chelsea more apparent than in Tuesday's 1-1 draw at Liverpool.
It was a record-setting performance for Kante, who ended the game with 14 tackles -- the most for any player in any Premier League game this season and 11 more tackles than any other player on the pitch Tuesday night. Liverpool, in fact, were only credited with making 15 tackles as a team, and Kante was responsible for 14 of Chelsea's 23 tackles.
How good has Kante been since he came to the Premier League? Really, really good.
FACT: N'Golo Kante has made more tackles & interceptions (408) than any player in the last 3 PL seasons...
...he's only been here for 2! ðŸ˜³ðŸ‘ pic.twitter.com/YN7tp8M92g
â€” SPORF (@Sporf) February 1, 2017
After bursting onto the scene last year with Leicester, sniffing out attacks and winning challenges, Kante has done much of the same thing since moving to Chelsea. He led the Premier League in tackles and interceptions last season, and he's currently the only player in the Premier League to have at least 50 tackles and 50 interceptions this year.
It's doesn't appear to be a coincidence that Kante is on track to claim his second straight Premier League crown. His offseason move from Leicester to London has left a gaping hole in the Foxes' lineup while he's been one of the big reasons Chelsea has sprinted out to a seemingly insurmountable lead atop the table.