Kante buy me love

Remember how last year as Leicester marched to the League title there was that joke about how their goal for the season was 40 points? Well, with just 17 points from 18 games, Leicester’s actual goal this season is 40 points. In the off season they we able to beat off Arsenal’s interest in both the football writer’s player of the year, Vardy, and the actual player of the year Mahrez. They kept their leading scorer and their most valuable offensive threat, the defense is the same, the manager is the same, and yet the defending champs are in a relegation battle. What happened?

They sold their most valuable player to Chelsea.

One might be tempted to point to the creative players and suggest that they are struggling, which they are, as the reason for the decline. For example, many of Mahrez’s stats have dropped from last season:

Mahrez 2015 2016
Shots P90 2.5 2.4
Key Passes P90 2 1.6
Dribbles P90 3.9 2.7
Goals P90 0.5 0.2
Throughball 0.4 0.2
Assists P90 0.3 0.1

His shots and Key Passes have remained relatively the same but his successful dribbles, through balls, and assists have plummeted. Meanwhile, he’s taking shots from the same positions as last season but he’s not scoring them. Finishing percentage is capricious but creating shots and getting into scoring positions are indicators of quality. That Mahrez is still putting up decent numbers indicates to me that Mahrez is still playing at a high level but he’s missing a key element around him. A second scorer to take the pressure off. Someone to pass the ball to who can score goals.

That key element is Vardy. For all the hype of last season Vardy looks like he’s going to be a one-hit wonder. Great players are able to adjust to his team’s ebb and flow but instead of adjusting, all of his numbers are down:

Vardy 2015 2016
Shots P90 3.3 1.7
Key Passes P90 1.4 0.8
Dribbles P90 1.1 0.5
Goals P90 0.7 0.4
Fouled 0.8 0.4

Missing Vardy’s productivity is clearly a problem but overall, Leicester are suffering. They have dropped from 7th in shots per game with 13.7 to 14th with 11.1. Their possession stats and passing completion rates haven’t changed, so teams aren’t just conceding possession to them. Their aerial duels stats haven’t changed, so they aren’t going long ball. And defensively, Leicester are actually blocking more shots per game than last year. The problem is that the team’s attack was built around Kante and they didn’t replace him.

Last season Leicester were second in the League in tackles with 22.9 per game, this season they are 14th with 16.3 per game. Last season they were 1st in the League in interceptions with 21.6 per game and this season they are 11th with 14.3 per game. Obviously, Kante wasn’t averaging 7 interceptions and 7 tackles per game last season but he was averaging 4.2 interceptions and 4.7 tackles. His replacement Daniel Amartey only averages 1.3 interceptions per game and 1.9 tackles.

Not only did Kante win the ball back for Leicester, Kante brought an infectious energy with him. Both Mahrez and Vardy have dropped a tackle per game combined.  Even Marc Albrighton and Christian Fuchs’ tackling has dropped a half a tackle a game each. On the other hand, Danny Drinkwater’s tackling is up almost a full tackle per game. Not only do they miss Kante’s tackling, everyone seems to be missing his energy.

Worse than just the number of tackles was the way the team was set up. Last season, the pattern was for Kante to win the ball and pass to Drinkwater who would pick out a sprinting teammate for an assist or create the entry pass for Mahrez to get the assist. The result is that Drinkwater averaged 1.3 key passes per game last season and he is down to just 0.5 per game this season. Drinkwater is still a terrific center mid but in Kante’s absence he’s forced to be Leicester’s shield rather than facilitator.

It’s rare that a single player can make such a huge difference to a team’s success and even rarer that a defensive midfielder can play such a huge role. But it’s clear that in the absence of Kante, Leicester’s counter attack has withered on the vine and his former teammates haven’t picked up the slack.

If Leicester are relegated it would be the biggest story in Premier League football history. Man City were relegated the season after they won the League but that was back in 1937/1938 when football was still being born. Herbert Chapman won the League with Arsenal the season City were relegated with his innovative new system the WM.

In modern football Blackburn Rovers won the League in 94/95 and they finished 7th in 95/96. And the next season – after they sold Alan Shearer, who was averaging 30+ goals a year – they finished 14th. The worst finish by a champion in the Premier League era goes to Chelsea who finished 10th last season. Chelsea are currently top of the table and that is in no small part due to the fact that they bought N’Golo Kante from Leicester.



  1. Extremely pedantic: Herbert Chapman died suddenly of pneumonia in 1934, so he didn’t oversee Arsenal’s win in 1938, though it was still the dynasty that he was credited with building (I think by that point Arsenal had been using W-M for a good decade or so).

  2. Great article as always. Please compare Leicester Premier League with Leicester in Champs league.

  3. If Kante wins EPL two years in a row, does it mean that he has been MVP two years in a row?

    Let’s face it, not much else changed at Leisteshire or Chelsea. Why didn’t Arsenal go for him? Do we underrate the position or the man?

  4. Leicester won’t be relegated, in the same way that Chelsea were not. Yes, different teams, but they’re far too good for the drop.

    Kante is a magnificent little player. Look at how he instantly slotted into the France midfield (as did Payet), and he’s running the show there. The secret to being great DM? He’s got some good offense in his locker as well.

    Kante, Hazard, Costa and probably Victor Moses (the most startlingly improved player in the league this year) would all get into a Premier League All Star XI.

    (As, I think, would Sanchez, Ozil and Bellerin)

    But the story is Kante, the Leicester player we should really have pursued this summer.

  5. Wenger’s recurring sweet dream is Kante. A DM and B2B rolled into one. French also. Vardy and Mahrez probably caused Wenger to take his eyes off the ball. What a shame!

  6. It’s an interesting one. Is Kante better than Coquelin? Yes. Is he a LOT better than Coquelin? I don’t think so. Again, it’s impossible to measure that sort of thing, so it’s impossible to know how much of an impact he would make if we had him, but I don’t think it would be as huge as some people suggest. He’s a completely different player to Xhaka, and we needed what Xhaka provides, so I don’t fault us for prioritizing Granit. And once we had him, and Elneny last January, it just seems like it would have been focusing on an area of the pitch that wasn’t a priority if we had pursued Kante. I don’t think Wenger missed a trick, because he appreciates how good Kante is (maybe he missed a trick not buying him straight from France before Leicester!). Mustafi, Xhaka, and Perez were all more important purchases (even if the latter was a bit of an underwhelming purchase, he looks a canny buy, and we obviously needed another striker, especially before we had seen Alexis transformed by being moved into the centre). Of course, hindsight is 20/20. If we hadn’t bought Elneny last January, we would have had space in the squad for Kante, but at the time that purchase made sense. And we could have made space for Kante by selling one of either Coquelin or Ramsey, but, again, you can see why Wenger would have been loathe to lose either of those last summer (Ramsey because of his obvious potential to be a big player, Coquelin because he’s been a fantastic servant for the club, came through the youth ranks, is still young, has a great understanding with Cazorla, and wouldn’t have fetched as much money as Kante would have cost to buy).
    Again, I’m not saying Kante wouldn’t have been an upgrade, but prioritizing him would have made it more difficult to get all the business done that we did (and looking back, I think we had a very, very strong summer). Real football isn’t like football manager: you’re dealing with real people when you’re making transfers, and there’s only so many you can concentrate on at once.
    It reminds me a bit of the Fabregas situation when he left Barca for Chelsea. Obviously it sucked watching him go there and give them just what they needed in the middle of the park, but it would have been bordering on mismanagement for us to spend a large chunk of our transfer budget on a player that we really didn’t need at the time, just to prevent him going elsewhere. That’s something that clubs with sugar daddies can do, not Arsenal. Kante would have been more useful to us than Cesc, I think, but the situations are roughly parallel. It’s just a shame he ended up at Chelsea for such a reasonable fee.

  7. Sorry mate, Kante is significantly better than Coquelin. In Coquelin’s sole core competence — tackling, interception and breaking up play — plus he has more to his game offensively. Coquelin in our new system has been given more freedom further forward, and harrying apart, he’s an absolutely abysmal user of the ball in possession. Kante is miles ahead of him.

    saying so is not doing down your own. I appreciate our players — I’m simply not struck down by what Arsene described as the belief that you have the prettiest wife at home. I’m not really that bothered that we don’t have Kante. I for one simply said that if we were going pursue a player from the champions Leicester in the close season, he should have been the one. That view has been vindicated by his performances for France and Chelsea.

    As for the reason why not that you guess at, you get good players whenever you can, and offload surplus. See Cech, Ospina and Szczesny.

    As I’ve argued elsewhere, one man’s stockpile of unexceptional players is another man’s squad depth. I’d rather have two fewer of Wilshere, Coquelin and Elneny for one really good player like a Kante plus one of them. Similarly, two fewer of Welbeck, Giroud and Perez and one of them plus one exceptional centre forward.

  8. Plus, I’m not unhappy that we have Coquelin. He plays an important role. However it’s important to realise why Arsene first paired him with Santi. Santi is his “minde”r, in Arsene’s own words, to bring the distribution that Coquelin can’t.

    He’s a perfectly decent player and that’s going to work in most cases, but when good teams subject us to a suffocating midfield press, his inability to distribute is magnified. He was either the first or second player to substituted at City. He usually gets subbed in those situations. Teams almost never sub their anchors.

    Clearly Elneny and Xhaka were not upgrades on Coquelin, because neither is as effective as he is tackling, stopping and breaking up play. Xhaka (who Im a big fan of) is our best deep passer. Elneny is a good all-round midfielder with a bit of goal threat (which, by the way, his manager has been trying to curb).

    Coquelin is the only player of his type in the first team. Beilik, who’d looked like inheriting the role in time, is now being converted to a central defender.

    1. I was happy we went for Vardy and thought Kante was good but surplus to requirements. Claudeivan was right on this one though. Everyone should want Kante in their team regardless of who else is already on the roster.

  9. Klopp and Liverpool give a lesson I’d wish we’d learn on how to keep an early 1-nil lead. They kept pressuring ManShitty high throughout the 1st half and even when they dropped off in the 2nd half, they didn’t retreat all the way back to the edge of their penalty area. They defended well. Nine total shots, two inside the box, and no big chances for City vs Liverpool. City had 14 shots, nine in the box, and three big chances when we tried to defend and counter against them. And Aguero didn’t even play against us.

  10. Professional win and goal of the season candidate. I’ll never understand Wenger’s substitution and rotation policy. Elneny, Iwobi, and Perez have fewer combined minutes this season than Sanchez but they were the players substituted when our next game is 48 hours away.

  11. At the time to start considering substitutions, Palace were in the ascendancy. Coquelin and Ramsey came on to up the energy level and shore up the midfield. If Arsenal had scored a third, I think Wenger would have taken Sanchez off. But we didn’t, and had Palace seen Sanchez come off and then pulled a goal back they really would have had their tails up. Perez and Iwobi were both clearly tiring – which was partly why Palace were looking stronger.

    Not saying I necessarily agree, but pretty sure this was the logic.

  12. one can’t blame chelsea for bringing in kante but it’s not the first time they’ve pulled off this trick. in arsenal’s unbeaten season, chelsea bought makelele from real madrid, essentially destroying the galaticos and establishing the mourinho-dominated era in one swoop for a paltry £17 million. chelsea have got experience doing this.

    the beauty of kante’s game is there’s so few stats for what he does well. he may not be exceptionally gifted but he’s a player who does all the simple things better than everyone else. as a result, everyone else’s game is better and chelsea are on the brink of making history.

    i have to agree with pfo in saying that he wasn’t what arsenal needed this summer. despite being a huge fan of kante, i can’t argue arsenal not pursuing him. wenger is on record saying some very flattering things about kante, which is a huge credit to the young frenchman. we’ll see how arsenal title challenge goes with that asset being on chelsea’s books.

    lastly, francesc fabregas has been a revelation for chelsea this season. his play has been nothing short of spectacular. he doesn’t get the credit he deserves but without him, many of chelsea’s wins become draws and draws become losses.

  13. yesterday, iwobi proved my point that he’s a better option in the #10 spot than aaron ramsey. dynamite performance from that young man yesterday.

    with everyone fit, is aaron ramsey even the second best option at any position? he makes a boatload of money. if he doesn’t agitate for a move, i have no problem with him staying and being a squad player. i think he loves the club. we’ll see.

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