Always Turning Forward: The Underrated Offense of N'Golo Kanté
Elite change of pace, ball carrying, and off-ball movement combine to make Kanté one of the best tempo breakers in football today.
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N’Golo Kanté is undeniably one of the greatest ball winners of all time, possessing world-class anticipation, spatial recognition, tenacity, and athleticism. As a result, there has been much debate over the best way to use him out of possession, with his club coaches declining to restrict him to a holding role and the opposite happening with France.
While Kanté’s impact is maximized when allowed to aggressively engage — much like Eduardo Camavinga — his maturity and capacity to modulate his tendencies made him remarkably effective as a screener on the international stage. Thus, due to Kanté’s defensive versatility, the more interesting discussion revolves around how any positional change affects his offense.
Notwithstanding his tactical failures in EURO 2020, Didier Deschamps’ reactive 4-4-2 worked in the World Cup precisely because of the inherent limits present in international competition; with minimal preparation time and less cohesive squad chemistry, it is difficult to build fully-fleshed out systems that test every weakness and dominate every nuance. Consequently, Deschamps could squeeze Kanté into an imperfect fit rather easily, emphasizing N’Golo’s defensive qualities while transferring the progression and creation load to Paul Pogba, knowing that few opponents could exploit such a setup.
In light of this, it’s notable that Kanté has been deployed very differently back in England, where rigorous high pressing and a more dominant team outlook would seriously test the now 31-year-old’s ability to connect play from the back.
Instead, the likes of Maurizio Sarri and Thomas Tuchel have utilized Kanté as a box-to-box dynamo, taking advantage of the skills that make him great on defense to produce a genuine offensive contributor.
Always Turning Forward
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