Liverpool’s domination didn’t matter because they had no answer for N’Golo Kante
Chelsea have opened up a nine-point lead at the top of the Premier League table, and it really doesn’t look like anyone’s catching them. Just look at what happened on Tuesday at Anfield. They were dominated in possession by Liverpool, and the Reds just about edged them in terms of quality chances, but the visitors pulled out a crucial draw, holding the league’s best attack to just one goal largely because of one man: N’Golo Kante.
Kante’s presence has been one of the biggest factors in Chelsea maintaining the best defense in the league, and it’s consistent performances like the one he put in against Liverpool that pushed them to the top of the league. He’s been Chelsea’s glue all season, and his dominant game against Liverpool just further underlined why he’s their major key.
Against Liverpool, Kante was absolutely everywhere. Statistics can never tell the whole story in soccer, but here’s one that pretty well illustrates his importance.
N'Golo Kante: Made more tackles vs Liverpool (14) than any other player has made in a Premier League match this season #LIVCHE
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 31, 2017
Look up the word “ubiquitous” in Webster’s Dictionary, and instead of a verbal definition, there’s now just a picture of Kante in midfield.
Liverpool held a massive edge in possession, but they were only able to manage one shot on target in the first half, in large part because of Kante’s herculean efforts. Despite their control of the ball, they were rarely dangerous in the first half, as nearly every move Liverpool did try to start through midfield was immediately extinguished by the Blues, with Kante the primary protagonist.
In the second half, Liverpool adjusted well, shifting their strategy to dangerous diagonal balls into the corners, avoiding Kante’s pesky presence in the middle, and trying to work chances by taking advantage of the uncertainty between Chelsea’s outside center-backs and wingbacks, just like Tottenham did in their win against the Blues a few weeks ago.
It worked to an extent, and the second half was much better for the Reds. Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum were especially influential after the shift in tactics, but they still were mainly relegated to playing one and two-touch in midfield, getting off the ball as quickly as possible to avoid Kante’s inevitable presence. Their shift in tactics even resulted in a goal, with Wijnaldum deservedly finding the back of the net.
Still, on the whole, Liverpool just weren’t as dangerous going forward as they typically are. Chelsea kept numbers behind the ball, nullifying their normally devastating counter-attack, and their best player, Philippe Coutinho was a non-factor on the day. A big reason for that? A tiny Frenchman named Kante was in his face every time he touched the ball. He was a one-man wrecking ball against Liverpool, complicating every single move they made.
More than anything, consider this: Both Tottenham and Liverpool, two of the best teams in the Premier League and the only ones to really give Chelsea problems in months, were only able to do so because their entire gameplan revolved around getting Kante as uninvolved as possible. Teams have to completely alter their tactics because of him.
Kante is no longer underrated, flying under the radar, or anywhere close to an unknown quantity at this point. His contribution to Leicester City’s title-winning charge last year has been underlined, highlighted and analyzed ad nauseum. Now, in a Chelsea shirt, he’s continued to show just how important a player he is. It’s not hyperbole to say he may just be the most influential midfielder in the entire Premier League.
He showed it once more against Liverpool, and if he continues to do N’Golo Kante things, he’s probably going to lift the Premier League trophy for the second year in a row. At this rate, they’re going to have to name it the Kante Trophy.