N’Golo Kante: Chelsea’s unglamorous MVP

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04: Ngolo Kante of Chelsea battles for the ball with Francis Coquelin of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on February 4, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04: Ngolo Kante of Chelsea battles for the ball with Francis Coquelin of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on February 4, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) /

N’Golo Kante, not Diego Costa or Eden Hazard, is the main reason Chelsea are cruising to the Premier League title this season. 

N’Golo Kanta is Chelsea’s most valuable player.

That might, in some quarters, be a controversial statement, but not if you truly understand what it takes to win the Premier League. Too often we’re fed a litany of offensive statistics, players often characterized and evaluated by supporters’ insatiable thirst for goals, assists and other tangible attacking numbers. The providers of which are usually of the highest profile.

Many think Diego Costa, who has 15 goals and five assists in 23 appearances, is Chelsea’s most important player. Others probably vote for Eden Hazard, the diminutive maestro who, with 10 goals and three assists, has awakened from last season’s slumber with unbridled fury.

Those are definitely Chelsea’s high-profile, showcase players but neither superstar is their most valuable player.

Kante: Chelsea’s bedrock

That honor goes to Kante, Chelsea’s bedrock and glue. For without him, things could come unstuck.

Resembling Claude Makelele, one of Chelsea’s greatest defensive midfielders, Kante expertly patrols and covers the pitch. His exquisite positioning is matched only by his insatiable energy. Like his French counterpart of the previous generation, Kante is one of the few true defensive midfield puritans.

Kante gets a lot of credit for the job he does on a weekly basis, but the plaudits he receives still pale in comparison to what he deserves.

The Premier League, no matter what fans of Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga will have you believe, is by far the toughest soccer title to win in Europe. The Premier League offers no easy games, a fact further compounded by the long, grueling English winter.

While on paper goals decide games, it’s actually the hard graft, the endless tracking back and the thankless task of breaking up passes in the heart of midfield that decides many matches, especially those tough away fixtures in the dead of winter.

Kante goes to war every week for Chelsea, never taking a game off. He inspires a greater collective work ethic from those around him. His unwavering will, dedication and devotion to the cause spreads throughout the team like an airborne contagion.

Do the stats back up the claim?

The 25-year-old workhorse has lost only six of his 60 Premier League appearances. Of those 60 appearances, 41 have ended in victory. He has won one more Premier League game since August 2015 than Sunderland have in the last five seasons.

His single goal this season is completely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things as Kante brings countless intangibles to the pitch. But much of his impressive play can be quantified, too.

Kante has completed 1,471 passes, fifth most in the top flight. That equates to over 61 passes per match, 12 more than Hazard. Of course Hazard does a lot more running with the ball at his feet, but the stat still demonstrates the enormity of Kante’s influence.

The Frenchman’s best attribute is unquestionably his tackling ability. The man is as fierce as he is precise. Kante’s 86 tackles rank him third behind Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson (88) and Everton’s Idrissa Gueye (95).

The tower of strength has 55 interceptions thus far, putting him ninth in that category. Keep in mind that it’s not easy to accumulate interceptions when your team is usually in possession of the ball.

Leicester, a team lost without Kante

Look at Leicester’s catastrophic fall from grace if you need more evidence. There are many factors causing the Foxes’ free fall, none of which are more crucial than Kante’s summer departure. He protected Wes Morgan and Robert Huth like a grizzly bear protects her cubs.

It’s now open season on Huth and Morgan, the center-back partnership being cruelly exposed.

It looks like, as a collective unit, Leicester have lost their desire to win. That, at least partly, is also down to Kante’s exit. There is nobody to cover the kind of ground Kante does.

Claudio Ranieri hasn’t been able to figure out how to cope with the crater-size hole left by Kante’s exit. It’s like the Foxes’ spine has been severed, leaving Leicester helplessly paralyzed.

He does the work of two players and is worth his weight in gold.

Kante, along with many of the usual culprits — Costa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Alexis Sanchez and Kevin De Bryune — is a leading contender for the Premier League’s Player of the Year Award.

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Let’s, for a moment, put aside our pre-disposed propensity to award goal-scoring, assist-getting, highlight-reel players and thank a player with a thankless job.

Kante is on the verge of becoming the first player to win consecutive titles with different clubs. If Chelsea hold on to their lead atop the table and win the Premier League, it will be in large part due to Kante’s contribution.

Don’t you think it’s high time a no-nonsense warrior with an innate ability to help his team win is awarded the Premier League’s highest personal honor?