Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have stolen the headlines with their excellent performances this season, but summer signing N’Golo Kante has been just as vital to Leicester City’s underdog story.
- Name: N’Golo Kante
- Position: Midfield
- Fantasy Price: £7m (PlayON), £5m (FPL)
- Appearances: 16
- Goals: 1
- Assists: 2
With the sale of Claude Makelele to Chelsea in 2003 the last true excess of the original Galactico era was fully indulged – David Beckham signed from Manchester United and the final piece of the Hollywood jigsaw was in place. Shirt sales in the far-east were certainly on the up, but with the Frenchman gone, it would be more than a decade before they reclaimed their coveted status as European top dogs.
As the newly installed Real Madrid manager and club legend, Zinedine Zidane, remarked at the time – “why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”
This season, Leicester haven’t exactly been a Bentley, but they’ve pushed themselves to the summit of the Premier League armed with the footballing equivalent of a souped up family saloon. The new engine? N’Golo Kante.
Again, Kante isn’t quite a Makelele either. The Leicester man is more of a dynamic box to box presence than his countryman, but his importance to his team is arguably just as crucial as Makelele was to Madrid – albeit under different circumstances.
Coming in as a relative unknown with just one season of top flight French football under his belt, Kante has kept a marquee import in Gokhan Inler firmly rooted to the bench this season and has boosted the reputation of the canny Leicester City scouting team.
The ex-Caen man joins the likes of Vardy, Mahrez, Fuchs, Huth and Marc Albrighton among the inspired budget acquisitions that are now providing the formidable core of Claudio Ranieri’s starting XI.
Far from the unsung hero in this post-Makelele world of punditry, Jamie Carragher has gone so far as to single Kante out as the best Premier League signing of the season.
Much like Esteban Cambiasso’s relegation-proof Indian summer last year, Kante has emerged as the heartbeat of the midfield. Watch any Leicester City match this season and you’ll see this tireless figure in the middle of the park harassing opposition like a madman, putting the boot in, mopping up loose balls and launching rapid counter attacks for the blisteringly quick Mah-rdy combination to do the necessary damage.
“He is a moped. This is the engine of the team, he runs everywhere” – Riyad Mahrez, France Football
In his 16 appearances this season, the Parisian has made more interceptions than any other player in the league, clocking five per game on average. Likewise in terms of tackles, the Frenchman has had no issues doing the dirty work, making 106 attempted tackles this season – a number that trails only Fernandinho’s 108.
However, Kante isn’t just a breaker and destroyer. His goal and two assists this season have shown he possesses an eye for the attack – he scored five in Ligue 1 in 2014/15 – but generally speaking, this side of the game has been reserved for his in-form teammates further up the pitch.
In terms of fantasy football value, Kante is more suited to daily fantasy than the traditional Fantasy Premier League format. Given that defensive statistics are very much rewarded with PlayON, and Kante ranks as just about the most impressive midfielder of that kind in the league, he makes a hugely intriguing prospect in any line-up – especially at a price of £7m.
The immediate league schedule is a mixed bag for Ranieri’s men, who take on Spurs and Aston Villa in their next two fixtures. Whatever the case, Kante is still a very viable selection given that his statistics for interceptions, tackles and clearances remain consistent regardless of the opponent.
Martin Keown recently described him as having an “iron lung” – but if any Premier League player looks to be lugging around a piece of medical machinery from the 1950s, it certainly isn’t N’Golo Kante.