Thomas Tuchel may have only joined Chelsea halfway through the season but he already has a dream squad.
Not only does the German have several extremely talented compatriots with Bundesliga ties in his newly inherited squad, but he also has a player that he has always wanted to coach.
“I wanted many years to have N’Golo Kante in my team and now I have him here,” said the German after drawing 0-0 with Wolves on his managerial debut in West London.
Of course that could be seen as a manager buttering up one of his star men, particularly as said star man is rumoured to be unhappy at the club. However if you look back at Tuchel’s time as PSG boss then it tracks.
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Firstly there were always rumours linking PSG with Kanté. And while that by itself needn’t mean anything, the fact that PSG did end up signing Idrissa Gueye from Everton, Gueye being a mini-version of Kanté with a near identical skill-set, makes it seem like more than just a manager trying to make his wantaway star feel loved and important.
Tuchel had a supremely stacked squad at PSG but still sought out and recruited Gueye from mid-table Everton. Why else would you do that unless you wanted what he could bring? And what he could bring is exactly what Kanté does for Chelsea.
What is that? Defending, of course. Relentless, effective, defending. When you play as forward-thinking and offensively as Thomas Tuchel does then a key problem becomes how you handle counter-attacks and opponents coming at you without sacrificing your own commitment.
The answer is a defensive counterweight, and while Idrissa Gueye is fantastic, N’Golo Kanté is the finest there is. That is likely why Tuchel has always dreamt of having someone like Kanté in his side. And why he signed Gueye for PSG.
- Age: 29
- Premier League stats (2020/21 season)
- Games played: 17 (1,481 minutes)
- Tackles: 3.04 per 90
- Interceptions: 2.37 per 90
- Long passes attempted: 5.23 per 90
- Possessions won in the final third: 0.73 per 90
- Football Index value: £0.22 (Sell) – £0.35 (Buy)
“16 recoveries in the last third is proof of energy on the pitch,” said Tuchel after the Wolves draw. And it’s true that high-pressing is a key tenet for Tuchel, a devoted student of Pep Guardiola’s footballing philosophy, as he wants to create turnovers in dangerous positions and allow his teams to attack opponents when they are most vulnerable.
Of course Kanté is a defensive machine, but does he help with the high press? Well, that depends. Obviously Kanté can push up to win the ball back in the final third but at 0.73 times per 90 he ranks 47th among all Premier League players so far this season.
However Frank Lampard didn’t really have an organised system of pressing, with Chelsea sort of just making it up as they went along. Looking back to 2018/19 under Maurizio Sarri and Kanté ended that season with 1.02 possessions won in the attacking third (per-90, 35 in total which was third in the division), which ranked 12th among all Premier League players.
So if Tuchel wants to include Kanté in his high press, the Frenchman is more than capable. And here’s the other thing, this season Kanté has won possession 3.83 times in the middle third of the pitch, so even if Tuchel leaves him out of the high press he is still one of the best sweeping presences in the Premier League, cleaning up when opponents manage to escape Chelsea’s first line of defence.
Kanté’s defensive ability is so all-encompassing that he could fill any role Tuchel asks of him, which is probably why he’s dreamed of coaching the two-time Premier League champion for years. He’s always wanted the defensive powerhouse on his team and now he has him, you can expect Chelsea to be a formidable force in the pressing game under their new German coach.