How Does Chelsea's Signing of N'Golo Kante Impact the Premier League?
It was always going to play out this way -- right?
After Leicester City's magical run to the English Premier League title last season, the Foxes were going to be broken up.
To keep their best players -- namely Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante -- Leicester, a smaller club, would have to fend off big-money bids from the giants of club soccer.
Well, the poaching has begun.
Confirmed: Leicester City agree to sell N'Golo Kanté to Chelsea … pic.twitter.com/7ljgw5beRI
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) July 16, 2016
Chelsea landed Kante, one of the Premier League's top midfielders, with a transfer bid of £32 million, per Sky Sports. While it would've been nice to see Leicester City, fresh off a historic championship, keep its core together, the allure and money -- Kante's weekly wage will be triple what it was last season -- of Europe's elite clubs almost always wins out when it comes to the transfer window (and in turn, on the pitch), which is one of the many things that makes Leicester's Premier League title so freakin' nuts.
Moving forward, let's take a look at how this move impacts both Leicester City and Chelsea.
The Foxes were a longshot to repeat as Premier League champs -- not that long odds frighten Leicester City too much -- but it's going to be even more difficult now.
Mahrez and Vardy stole the headlines and scored goals during last season's improbable run to the title, but Kante -- all 5'7", 150 pounds of him -- was the team's engine. A fearless combatant and tireless worker who has an incredible knack for winning the ball, Kante didn't finish a lot of Leicester's chances, but he started them by cutting out a pass or gaining possession with a tackle.
Kante made so many plays that it seemed like there had to be more than one of him on the pitch. He became a sensation.
FACT: 70% of the planet is covered by water.
The rest by N'Golo Kante. (vine via @br_uk)https://t.co/evwZwQlYC4
— BBC Sporf (@BBCSporf) July 15, 2016
Not only was he one of Leicester's best players, but Kante was also one of the top performers in all of the Premier League.
Here are some of his key per-game stats, per WhoScored.com, with where each stat ranked in the Premier League in parenthesis.
|Per-Game Stats||Tackles||Interceptions||WhoScored Rating|
|N'Golo Kante||4.7 (1st)||4.2 (1st)||7.61 (6th)|
With a superb 7.61 WhoScored Rating, Kante was one of the truly elite midfielders in Europe last season. Mousa Dembele was the only defensive midfielder in the Premier League to finish with a better rating last season than Kante, who was tops in tackles and interceptions among Europe's top five leagues.
Here is Kante at his best. Other than a heavy touch on his header, Kante (number 14) does so many Kante things in this clip. He flies around, wins a 50-50 ball, tracks to the other side of the pitch, hounds an opposing player, pokes the ball away twice, and wins it for good.
All of that to say: Leicester City is losing a lot. And it could get worse as Mahrez, the Foxes' best player and the league's top-rated performer, has also been linked with a move away from Leicester.
Danny Drinkwater, Kante's partner in crime last season, is still around to anchor the midfield this year, and the Foxes are going to have a nice influx of cash on their hands thanks to Kante's departure, which set a club record for the largest transfer fee ever received. If Mahrez bounces, too, Leicester will have enough cash -- plus the pull of Champions League soccer -- to attract quality players to round out their roster.
The Foxes have already inked Nampalys Mendy, a 24-year-old defensive midfielder, from Nice. Last season in France's League One, Mendy averaged 2.2 interceptions and 1.7 tackles per game, ending the year with a rating of 6.84, per WhoScored.com. Time will tell if Mendy gets the first crack at trying to fill Kante's shoes.
Even if Mahrez stays, the Foxes will have a big fight on their hands just to secure European soccer for the 2017-18 campaign. The Foxes are currently picked to finish seventh in Premier League this year, per sportsbook odds.
The move to Chelsea, Premier League royalty, continues an incredible last 12 months for Kante. Leicester City snatched Kante from the French second division, where he was a relative unknown. In 12 short months, he's helped Leicester make history, capped for France and secured a role on one of Europe's top clubs.
While last season was a dream for Leicester City, it was a nightmare for Chelsea. The Blues, who entered the 2015-16 season as defending champions, struggled their way to a 10th-place finish and fired renowned manager Jose Mourinho midseason. For a team with Chelsea's bankroll, finishing outside of a European spot is unbearable.
Shoot, Chelsea's best moment of the year was beating Tottenham to clinch the title for Leicester.
They've gone about resurrecting things in typical super-club fashion -- by throwing money at the problem.
When the Blues won the league in 2014-15, Nemanja Matic was a key cog as a defensive midfielder, leading the Premier League in tackles. Matic again paired with Cesc Fabregas in Chelsea's midfield last season, but his form slipped, and Matic eventually lost his spot in the starting 11.
Here's a side-by-side look comparing Matic and Kante last season, and as you can see, there's not much of a comparison.
|Player||Arial Duels Won||Tackles||Interceptions|
There are a couple things to note here. One, Kante actually had more tackles and interceptions than Fabregas and Matic combined. Two, Kante won more headers, albeit at a lesser success rate, than Matic despite Matic's 6'4" frame.
Ostensibly, Fabregas, more of an offensive-minded player, and Kante complement each other well and could give Chelsea the kind of midfield production it got when it lifted the Premier League trophy two years ago. While we've harped on Kante's defensive abilities, he showed last season he can be a box-to-box midfielder, which could allow Matic to focus solely on his defensive responsibilities -- that is, if the Blues decide to keep Matic around.
Depending on how Conte wants to set up, Chelsea could have a front half of Kante, Fabregas, Willian, Eden Hazard, and Diego Costa next season, which looks pretty dang good on paper. If the Blues sell Matic, Kante would likely slide back and protect the backline in more of a defensive role.
Either way, Chelsea is primed to bounce back from last year's disappointing campaign, with odds tabbing the Blues to finish fourth in the Premier League.