Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Chelsea and N’Golo Kante move closer to title after Liverpool draw
Last Updated: 04/02/17 8:41am
Chelsea could only draw 1-1 at Anfield on Tuesday night but another title win for N’Golo Kante looks inevitable. He racked up some more amazing stats against Liverpool...
Divock Origi looked set to counter-attack on Chelsea but there was N'Golo Kante to snuff out the danger by the touchline. Moments later it was Sadio Mane bursting down the right wing. Seemingly from nowhere, Kante was there again. And that was just in stoppage time.
In the final minute of normal time, his forceful play had helped fashion the opening for Chelsea last chance of the game - Pedro shooting narrowly wide of the far post. Antonio Conte had to settle for a point but it was one that extends their lead at the top to nine.
This was not Chelsea at their most fluent. Whether it was by design or not, they surrendered possession to Liverpool in the first half - seeing only 34 per cent of the ball. But while they have the players to thrill, this is a team that can grind it out too.
For all Liverpool's possession, the home side's first half yielded only one shot and even that was from outside of the box. With Kante patrolling in front of the back three, darting left then right, it was a struggle for Jurgen Klopp's team to get much closer.
Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea - Most tackles
This wasn't his best display. He lost the ball on occasion, although it would be more accurate to say he loaned it. He always won it back. Kante made 14 tackles in all. The next most by any other player on the pitch was three. His team-mates made 10 tackles between them.
In fact, no other player this season had made more than 10 tackles in a game this season. This is a player who has now made more tackles than anyone else in the Premier League over the past three seasons - and he's only been in the country for two of them.
It underlines the point that Kante is a little bit different. And while there are many factors in Leicester's alarming regression this season, sometimes the most obvious explanation is the right one. Since arriving in the Premier League, his 59 appearances have yielded 133 points.
Win Kante's signature and win the title? As with Leicester's steep decline, of course there are multiple reasons for Chelsea's upturn in fortunes. Conte's influence has been huge with the return to form of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard vital to the team's success this season.
Leicester and Chelsea with/without Kante since his arrival in England
But on a night when Costa's finishing touch deserted him, failing to beat Simon Mignolet from the spot when presented with the opportunity to restore Chelsea's lead late on, this was a night to celebrate instead those who make life so difficult for their opponents.
David Luiz was influential at both ends, Cesar Azpilicueta was his reliable self and Nemanja Matic impressed again in midfield. But it is Kante whose energy ensures Chelsea's two-man midfield provides the protection usually afforded by three.
"He is a player important to the balance," says Conte and it is games such as the one at Liverpool that highlight that. It is the sort of balance that Leicester and every other team in the Premier League surely crave. Even Saturday's opponents Arsenal.
Kante actually made a rare mistake in the 3-0 defeat against the Gunners in September, attempting to win the ball off Mesut Ozil high up the pitch but seeing the Arsenal man elude him and break quickly to score the third goal of the afternoon.
Most Premier League tackles over the past three seasons
"I prefer this," said Conte afterwards. "He went late to stop an opponent. He went in not at the right time and he paid for it. I prefer he made a mistake through generosity. He's a humble man, a humble player. I like these players who put the team before themselves."
Chelsea's battling draw at Liverpool showed once more that Conte has a few of them in the ranks. But as the statistics show, there's nobody quite like N'Golo Kante. And that's why a second successive Premier League winners' medal will surely be around his neck by May.