How N'Golo Kante outran, outjumped, outworked and eventually outdid Manchester City in the Champions League final

That N'Golo Kante is a one-of-a-kind player is well known. But the way he played at Porto on Saturday night was amazing even by his standards.

File photo - N'Golo Kante poses with his man of the match trophy. (Image: Twitter/@ChampionsLeague)

An hour before the 2021 Champions League final when the teamsheets were announced, Manchester City fans were left scratching their heads. What had Pep Guardiola done? Starting with a False 9 wasn’t new, but the lack of a holding midfielder definitely was. Indeed, the only reason for Pep going with this system was to force Chelsea attacks wide. However, it’s also worth wondering if he did it just ti nullify the effect of Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante.

Whatever the plan, to say it didn’t have the desired effect wiuld be an understatement. Chelsea lifted their second Champions League trophy and Kante having the game of his life was a key reason that happened.

That Kante is a one-of-a-kind player is well known. But the way he played at Porto on Saturday night was amazing even by his standards.

Nullifying CIty’s midfield

City’s starting formation had Kevin de Bruyne in the False 9 role. As such, he had free license to roam, drop deep and dictate the play how he saw fit.

Kante, however, had other ideas. With Jorginho generally sitting deep, Kante snapped at De Bruyne’s heels constantly. The midfielder, so often a difference maker for City, wasn’t afforded the time or space to weave his magic.

Kante was imperious in defence. He won 11 duels, recovered the ball 10 times, made three clean tackles and also made two vital interceptions and clearances.

Amazingly, he didn’t commit a single foul and not one of the City players was able to dribble past him.

As such, by the time the Belgian departed due to a nasty clash with Antonio Rudiger, his absence made no real difference.

The job Kante did on De Bruyne – and indeed, the City midfield in general – made it much easier for Chelsea’s defence to marshall the forwards.

N’Golo Kante is everywhere

Enough has been said about Kante’s ability to pop up wherever there is danger on the pitch. Many attribute that to his unparalelled fitness and running; however, there’s more to it.

The Frenchman is not just fit and speedy, but also possesses an excellent tactical mind. That he can so often snuff out danger isn’t down to his physicality. It’s due to his ability to anticipate danger by reading the game.

Kante is at his best when used in a two-man midfield, like he was at Leicester and even Chelsea in the 2016-17 season. He has returned to that position under Tuchel and, unsurprisingly, has thrived.

Yet it is safe to say the Kante of 2020 is more complete than the Kante of five years ago. He willingly joins in the attack, his ball carrying and tidy passing getting Chelsea’s forwards into dangerous positions.

Indeed, he completed 100% of the take-ons he attempted against City. He also won four aerial duels, more than any other player on the pitch. It’s worth noting that he was, in fact, the shortest player on the pitch.

What does the future hold?

The 30-year-old will be part of the France side for the Euros set to begin in less than a fortnight. Kante’s trophy haul makes for impressive reading: two Premier Leagues, one FA Cup, one Europa League, one Champions League and a World Cup.

Yet the thing about elite players is they are always hungry for more. Kante will want to win the Euros too and given the star quality France possess, it’s hard to look past them.

There’s also suggestions doing the rounds that Kante should be awarded the Ballon d’Or. And while there is a case to be made that right now it’s too early to call, the “N’Golo Kante for Ballon d’Or” chorus will only grow louder if France win the Euros.

Yet even if Kante never wins the individual award, it won’t matter to him. As he said after the Champions League final, individual awards are secondary. It’s what one does for the team that matters most.

Shayne Dias

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