N’Golo Kante insists he is finally growing into his new role in Chelsea’s midfield as the France star prepares for Wednesday’s clash with Southampton.
Kante earned a reputation as the world’s best defensive midfielder after playing a key role in Chelsea and Leicester’s Premier League title triumphs, as well as France’s World Cup victory.
But the 27-year-old has had to adapt to a change of position this season under new Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri.
Sarri, who replaced Antonio Conte in the close-season, brought Jorginho with him from Napoli to play the pivotal midfield role in front of the defence that used to be Kante’s domain.
Sarri believes Jorginho’s superior passing makes him more suited to launching Chelsea’s attacks than Kante, who is now operating in a slightly more advanced role on the right of midfield.
Kante has sometimes looked out of sorts in his different position this season, but he showed signs of getting to grips with it on Sunday, scoring the winner at Crystal Palace with a well-timed run and cool finish.
“This role is something I am enjoying and in a game I try to make that run sometimes,” Kante said.
“David (Luiz) gave me a good ball and I am happy to score with my left foot and give something to the team.”
Away wins at Watford and Palace made it a happy Christmas for Chelsea.
But with the Blues still trailing 11 points behind leaders Liverpool, their title ambitions have been put on the back burner as they focus on securing a place in next season’s Champions League via a top four finish.
Currently in fourth place — five points ahead of fifth placed Arsenal — Sarri’s side will be expected to consolidate that position against a Southampton team struggling to avoid relegation.
Yet Chelsea shouldn’t be complacent after some inconsistent displays of late, including a surprise 1-0 defeat in their last home match against Leicester.
Work in progress
They could be hampered by fitness problems, with Olivier Giroud, Cesc Fabregas, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi all suffering injuries over Christmas.
Sarri has questioned Chelsea’s mental strength and cutting edge at various times this season and it would be no surprise to see new faces arrive in the January transfer window.
Blues defender David Luiz admits Chelsea are still a work in progress, but he believes Sarri’s philosophy is starting to take hold.
“It’s the connection, training together every day, understanding the philosophy and trying to improve,” Luiz said.
In their first match of 2019, Chelsea are keen to banish the spectre of anti-semitic chants from a section of their support after they were criticised for an offensive song about Tottenham fans during recent matches.
Sarri slammed the “stupid” people involved and the club have vowed to take action against the offenders.
The chant has a long history with Chelsea supporters and the issue is complicated by Tottenham fans also singing the offensive word themselves.
Southampton are outside the bottom three only on goal difference after losing successive home matches last week.
They will be without suspended captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg at Stamford Bridge after his red card against Manchester City.
“We will miss him, he’s our best midfielder at the club,” Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl said.
© Agence France-Presse