LONDON – Alvaro Morata may be grabbing the headlines for his goal-scoring exploits, but steering the well-oiled Chelsea unit once more is N’Golo Kante, a man whose consistency deserves the utmost acclaim.
Aside from the shock opening-day defeat by Burnley, Chelsea’s title defence has gone reasonably smoothly to date. The fact that Antonio Conte’s men trail the Manchester clubs is more down to the ruthlessness of their title rivals.
Morata has earned plaudits for his goal-scoring feats since arriving from Real Madrid, with the Spaniard having netted seven goals.
“I spoke with (Morata) before he joined Chelsea and told him I would be always on the phone if he needed any advice,” former Chelsea striker Fernando Torres said.
“Looking at the start he has made, it doesn’t look like he needs any advice at all.”
Morata may well fire the goals but, once again, the Blues have been able to rely on the relentless midfield metronome Kante, doing the dirty work so that Morata has the platform grab the goals.
When Kante signed for Chelsea from Leicester City, many doubted that he would be able to replicate his incredible form from his first season in England.
However, those naysayers were quickly proved wrong as only two players made more tackles than Kante in 2016-17, while Oriol Romeu was the only midfielder to make more interceptions as Kante collected a second successive Premier League winner’s medal.
It has been no different this campaign and, if anything, the 26-year-old is getting even better.
“N’Golo Kante played an amazing game, but we are used to seeing that because he is a fantastic player,” Conte said after Chelsea’s win over Leicester. “It is very important to see that this player is improving step by step.”
Tiemoue Bakayoko was brought in as additional defensive midfield cover, and he in fact finished the midweek win over Atletico Madrid with identical defensive stats (tackles, interceptions and clearances) to Kante’s.
However, emulating Kante on a regular basis will take some doing – no player has made more tackles or interceptions in the Premier League this season.
Such work may not grab the headlines like a Morata hat-trick can, but the job Kante is doing remains as pivotal to Chelsea’s cause as any – if Manchester City are going to continue their title charge at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, they will have to get through Kante first.