Mar 10, 2017 18:00:15
The Chelsea ace continues to set the Premier League holding midfield standard, but key men at Manchester United and Tottenham are chasing him down
“He is everywhere. I think sometimes when I am on the pitch I see him twice – one on the left and one on the right. I think I'm playing with twins.”
Eden Hazard’s recent comments regarding Chelsea team-mate N’Golo Kante seem to sum the France international up perfectly.
A Premier League title winner with Leicester City last season, the £30 million man is now the central cog in a well-oiled machine at Stamford Bridge that is fast closing in on the English top-flight crown.
Kante can be almost omnipresent at times – and if those playing alongside him feel that way, just imagine how difficult it must be to face him!
Nobody can touch the Blues ace when it comes to the nuts and bolts of midfield enforcement, with his numbers continuing to set the standard when it comes to tackles and ball recovery.
He gave another masterclass in those attributes against West Ham last time out, with his ability to predict what Mark Noble was going to do before the Hammers skipper had probably decided himself allowing Chelsea to spring out on the counter and Hazard to open the scoring.
It is that ability which makes him such a special talent, with his involvement in just about everything marking him out from the rest – he may not provide the finishing touch or the final pass all that often, but there is every chance that he played the first ball and put the wheels in motion.
If Kante is the Premier League king, though, then who are the pretenders to his crown and how close are they to ascending the throne?
Given the mass exodus of talent from Southampton in recent years, it is somewhat surprising that it took until the summer of 2016 for Victor Wanyama to be lured away from the south coast.
The Saints’ loss has most definitely been Tottenham’s gain, with the powerful Kenyan a midfield general of the highest order and a man that has slipped seamlessly into the Spurs fold alongside the more creative influences scattered throughout Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
His strengths lie in the physical side of the game, as he betters Kante in terms of duels won and is the closest challenger to the Chelsea talisman when it comes to tackles and recoveries, while he also has two Premier League goals to his name this season.
Ander Herrera has emerged as real fans’ favourite at Manchester United, with whole-hearted commitment to the collective cause always warmly embraced by the Old Trafford faithful.
The Spaniard has always liked a tackle and is not afraid to get stuck in when the studs are flying, but his terrier-liker tendencies have been taken to another level this season – with there now more than a hint of Red Devils legend Paul Ince in his game.
Those traits have, and will continue to get him into trouble at times, but he does not concede as many free-kicks as you might think – compared to others of his ilk – while his ability to read the game and position himself in useful areas is highlighted by his impressive interception haul.
Arsenal’s need for a world-class holding midfielder has been discussed at length for many years, with Arsene Wenger – as is his wont – seemingly reluctant to break open the chequebook for anything other than tricky, ball-playing types.
He thought he had found the solution to a long-standing dilemma when offering Francis Coquelin a regular run with the Gunners, but the Frenchman is yet to replicate the consistency of the very best in the business.
The 25-year-old is a useful option, but in all of the main categories around which his overall contribution will be judged, he is clearly not at the level of a Kante, Wanyama or Herrera.
Perhaps not a true anchorman, with Fernando often deployed alongside him, Fernandinho blurs the lines between holding and pressing midfielder.
The Brazilian is, however, an experienced campaigner and a man who can turn his hand to most things, with his game certainly more about battle and bite than creativity and craft.
His two red cards in the Premier League this season expose one area of weakness in his game, with a blown fuse never too far away, but his ability to read the play – in terms of recoveries and interceptions – places him in the bracket just below the all-conquering Kante.
Nemanja Matic was held up as being everything a holding midfielder should be after being brought back to Chelsea in January 2014, with many clubs cursing the Blues for spotting something in him that had passed them by.
The Serbian is the polar opposite of Stamford Bridge colleague Kante in terms of physicality and playing style, but the pair have formed a formidable partnership in an Antonio Conte system designed to offer stability at the back and expression going forward.
Matic is a languid, rangy type who glides over the surface and while he may not appear to be as in-your-face or all-action as his west London team-mate, he offers more than enough on the destructive front and can complement that skill set with impressive vision in the final third – with none of his rivals able to get near his six Premier League assists this term.