Chelsea were wretched, woeful and poor for the first half of last season. Even the arrival of Guus Hiddink did not inspire a major turnaround in fortunes and the reigning champions finished a lowly 10th in the Premier League.
While Chelsea struggled to climb back up the Premier League table a little club from the Midlands was heading for glory.
Leicester was unfancied, but at the heart of their title success was a little French midfield enforcer called N’Golo Kante.
Kante impressed so much in his central midfield position that he attracted the interest from some of the biggest clubs in European football. It seemed unlikely that he would stay with the Foxes and on Saturday the French international completed a £32.5million move to Chelsea.
Kante is a major upgrade to Chelsea’s defensive midfielders
There is very little doubt that the Blues have now upgraded their defensive options with the signing of Kante. The Frenchman arrives as competition, or more likely a replacement for Serbian international Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel. Both will struggle to get into the starting line-up next season.
Matic’s confidence is shot after a terrible campaign last season. He has gone from a key player during the title-winning campaign, to a player who is now considered by many as a liability.
The Serbian international is being linked with a move to Juventus. It would not be a major surprise to see him leave for Turin this summer.
Mikel has always been the Chelsea fans scapegoat, but for good reason. His contribution to the team is often sideway or backwards passes. Going forward he contributes next to nothing, which is strange considering he was previously an attacking midfielder.
The pair’s performances last season cannot even compare to Kante’s. The 25-year-old won the most tackles and made the most interceptions in the Premier League last season. Even going forward his figures are more impressive than his two new teammates.
The France international produced four assists last season, compared to Matic’s two and Mikel’s one. He is not just a midfield destroyer he can help create as well.
Building good foundations
Chelsea’s new boss Antonio Conte certainly knows what he is doing when building a team. The signing of N’Golo Kante was a no-brainer for any top team really. In fact, it has to be considered a coup for the Blues.
The new Chelsea boss needs top players from which to build the foundations of his team from. Kante is a very good cornerstone. It seems doubtful that he will be a one-season wonder.
The Frenchman’s presence in the centre of the Chelsea midfield will reassure the defence and allow the attacking players to do their jobs. Last season the Blues had major defensive concerns, which were not present in their title-winning campaign.
One of the key factors to those defensive concerns will have been the lack of confidence in the likes of Matic and Mikel. The defensive midfielder’s job is to protect and bail out their back four when needed. Neither of the pair did that very well last year and chaos ensued.
Top four the aim next season
The expectations have to be tempered at Chelsea. The Blues will be expected to challenge for the title by some, but the bookies do not fancy their title chances. Conte’s side are currently odds of 6/1 to be crowned champions in the new campaign.
The main objective for the former champions is re-establishing themselves in the top four and winning back a Champions League spot next season. Last season’s tenth place finish was a massive shock to everybody.
The Blues fans will be looking for a big improvement in the new campaign. Antonio Conte is undoubtedly a talented boss. However, he may need some time to get accustomed to the Premier League and it’s a big culture shock from Italian and international football.
Chelsea will want to put last season’s nightmare campaign far behind them. With their two summer signings so far it looks like the Blues are moving in the right direction.
Next season Kante could prove to be the player that makes all the difference to the Blues team. ‘The Interceptor’ as some fans have nicknamed him could prove to be the vital piece of Conte’s Chelsea jigsaw next season.
Can N’Golo Kante help Chelsea challenge for the title next season?