Is N’Golo Kante still in your World XI?

Chelsea
N'Golo Kante is fit to face Ajax.

N'Golo Kante's statistics show a steady decline from the player who between 2016-2018 would have been a popular choice as the world's best defensive midfielder.

Although there were key contributors alongside him, in my eyes Kante was the main reason why Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016, Chelsea took it off them in 2017 and France lifted the World Cup in 2018.

The role of defensive midfielder in the modern game – where tackling had become a lost art form and skilful players had learned how to win free-kicks from more physical opponents – suited him down to the ground.

Although overlooked by his peers until 2018, Kante’s performances for Didier Deschamps’ side in Russia ensured he was voted into the FiFpro World XI that year – the first defensive midfielder to be recognised since Xabi Alonso in 2012.

Since then, however, he has been on the wrong end of injuries and coaching philosophy and appears to have changed the way he plays – and contributes to Chelsea.

This season the Frenchman’s defensive stats are way down on his production when he first came to the Premier League.

In that memorable Foxes’ title-winning campaign the ex-Caen star averaged 4.7 tackles per game, 4.2 interceptions and 1.2 fouls.

Those key defensive stats deteriorated slightly over the following season under Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge, where he finished with 3.6 tackles, 2.4 interceptions and slightly more fouls at 1.5 per game.

His next season saw another fall in tackles (to 3.3) but a small rise in interceptions (2.5) and a drop in fouls per game (1.2).

Sarri’s arrival in summer 2018 – or just as importantly Jorginho’s – meant a shift in role for the recently-crowned World Cup winner – and his defensive stats went lower to 2.1 tackles, 1.2 interceptions and just one single foul per match.

However, this season under Frank Lampard those figures are on course to suffer again as, after eight Premier League matches, he is totalling 1.7 tackles, 2.3 interceptions and 1.8 fouls per game.

Although it is obviously a pattern of decline, some context on what level Kante is now operating at can be shown by the stats of other midfielders – Philip Billing for example outranks him in tackles (2.2) and interceptions (2.8) while the Dane also commits fewer fouls (1.4).

Watching him toil against Billing’s Bournemouth on Saturday, you could see how Kante is not as nimble as he used to be at recovering the ball, nipping in to intercept or avoiding falling into the trap of giving away the silly free kick.

In fairness to him, he has scored three Premier League goals this season and is on course to record more key passes per game than he’s ever done before.

But those stats won’t stick out among the top-flight’s creative forces and neither will they get him voted into any world XIs any more.

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