CHELSEA’S SWITCH TO 3-4-3 GOOD NEWS FOR N’GOLO KANTE
After back-to-back defeats by potential Premier League title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal last month, Antonio Conte needed a response from his Chelsea players when they took on Hull City before the international break. In the end that is exactly what he got, the Blues running out 2-0 winners at the KCOM Stadium thanks largely to an excellent performance in the second half.
The Italian set his side up differently for their trip to East Yorkshire, switching from a 4-1-4-1 formation to the 3-4-3 which had been introduced after 55 minutes of the 3-0 loss to Arsenal. The most obvious effect of the change was the installation of an extra centre-half and the inclusion of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso as wing-backs, but the alteration had an impact right across the pitch, most notably in the centre of midfield.
N’Golo Kante had previously been used as an anchor with two players – usually Nemanja Matic and Oscar – deployed in front of him in the engine room. This was a different role to what he had been accustomed to at Leicester City, who used the France international as one half of a two-man midfield alongside Danny Drinkwater. Kante seemed a little restricted and constrained in his early appearances for Chelsea, with his role and responsibilities different to what they had been during his superb season in 2015/16: the 25-year-old, for instance, occasionally dropped between the Blues’ centre-backs in phases of possession, something he never did at the King Power Stadium.
Chelsea’s setup against Hull meant Kante was better able to play his natural game; Chelsea’s No.7, benefiting from the added security of an extra centre-back behind him, used his extraordinary energy and stamina to close down opponents high up the pitch when his team did not have the ball and drive forward to get involved in the final third when they did. Kante managed to get himself into dangerous shooting positions on more than one occasion, and although he twice showed a reluctance to pull the trigger and then went on to waste an excellent chance with goalkeeper David Marshall stranded, the midfielder would have been happy with his new-found licence to break forward and play more of a box-to-box role.
It was also interesting to note that Kante completed 70 passes in his 90 minutes on the pitch, the highest figure he has recorded since moving to the Premier League in the summer of 2015. This, of course, has plenty to do with Leicester’s counter-attacking style last term and Hull’s willingness to cede possession at the KCOM Stadium, but it is still another piece of evidence that shows how much more Kante was involved compared to his previous outings in a Chelsea shirt.
The west Londoners’ acquisition of Kante in July was hailed by many as one of the most astute transfers of the close-season. The outstanding midfielder in the Premier League last year was back to his best against Hull, with Chelsea’s switch to a 3-4-3 suiting him down to the ground.