Luckily, N’Golo Kanté seems to be doing perfectly fine after dramatically fainting in front of his teammates the past weekend. Aside from the obviously more important health of a fellow human being, we’re grateful that Kanté will be back and ready to play right away.
There is no denying that he has changed the narrative on how we view all Premier League teams. Much like Claude Makélélé before him, N’Golo Kanté has gotten his team role named after him and now every team seemingly need to have a player in the N’Golo Kanté role.
A lot of fanbases around the league are excited about their own N’Golo Kanté, some of them are warranted, while others can hardly even classify as a poor man’s N’Golo Kanté. Let’s look through all the teams and rank all the options.
In dire need of an N’Golo Kanté:
WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? Did you not get the memo? Everyone is supposed to be looking for their N’Golo Kanté, but here you are with no one even capable of posing as a ball winning CDM. Lewis Cook and Sam Clucas won’t cut it. Don’t be surprised if both of these teams go down since they don’t have their own N’Golo Kanté.
Do they even N’Golo Kanté?:
Arsenal (Granit Xhaka), Mohamed Diamé (Newcastle), West Ham (Pedro Obiang), Liverpool (Jordan Henderson)
Hmm… I’m onto you guys. Posing as CDMs when all you really wanna do is spread passes around from a deep lying position. Xhaka has some fantastic passes and some not so fantastic passes, but his defensive work leaves a lot to be desired.
Newcastle were switching between Isaac Hayden and Mikel Merino as their defensive midfielder at the start of the season, but now they have ended up with… Mohamed Diamé? That’s no N’Golo Kanté. Sure, he is good for an occasional big occasion, but that’s when he shows up with an offensive contribution.
Pedro Obiang was lauded by West Ham fans as one of their players of the season last year, but that probably stems from being happy that Håvard Nordtveit didn’t play anymore. Obiang is a solid central midfielder and has some sneaky good through balls, but he’s not doing his N’Golo Kanté job of making games easier for his centre-backs. West Ham fans should be upset about not getting William Carvalho, who was close to signing for the club, a true N’Golo Kanté type of player.
Although a decent top 6 player, the less said about Jordan Henderson, the better.
The best of the rest N’Golo Kanté’s:
Gareth Barry (West Brom), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Stoke (Darren Fletcher), Jack Cork (Burnley), Jonathan Hogg (Huddersfield), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Dale Stephens (Brighton)
These guys fill our their N’Golo Kanté role with style. Or is it grit? Probably both.
We all know what Fletcher and Barry are capable of. They have been tackling and getting yellow cards since Kanté was a little boy. Jack Cork has been doing solid work as a defensive midfielder for some time as well, but always seems to go unnoticed. Burnley lost Michael Keane for this season, with Jack Cork coming in. They have been as good if not better defensively this season.
I didn’t know much about Dale Stephens before the season, but he has proved to be a decent defensive midfielder. He shares a lot of the defensive work with his midfield partner Davy Pröpper, as Brighton look to shore up their defence first and foremost. The same goes for Jonathan Hogg, who shares some defensive duties with Aaron Mooy when he plays. Mooy is fantastic, but no N’Golo Kanté.
Dier and Milivojevic play every game for their team. Instead of playing next to Wanyama like he did last year, Dier has been left to his own to fend off the other team. He fills his role expertly and just missed out on the top 7 (In honor of Kanté’s number). Milivojevic has been one of the few stable things about Crystal Palace this season.
The Top 7 N’Golo Kanté’s:
7. Abdoulaye Doucouré (Watford)
Doucouré has burst onto the scene this season, after showing a lot of promise in the 2nd half of last year. Not only has he been filling the CDM role like a boss, but he has chipped in with an amazing tally of 7 goals so far. Man Utd and Arsenal are reportedly set to go after him this summer and he is absolutely good enough for a Top 5 or a #6 club.
So why is he only ranked 7th? Because we are ranking how well you serve the N’Golo Kanté role. Doucouré goes above and beyond what is required from this role and that’s why he’s such an intriguing player, but there are 6 guys who are better at cleaning up for their team’s mistakes.
6. Southampton: Oriol Romeu
If you ask all Premier League pundits and experts: “Who is the most underrated player in the league”, a lot of them would probably mention Oriol Romeu. I’ve seen three or four different analysts specifically highlight what Romeu does for Southampton.
Southampton have struggled and are firmly in the relegation battle, but defensively they have at least been average. Among dumping Forster as first choice GK, offensively minded side backs, the whole van Dijk saga and the resulting circulation of centre backs, only Romeu has been the constant. Who knows where Southampton would be without him?
5. Everton: Idrissa Gana Gueye
The poor man’s N’Golo Kanté.
At least that’s what you are lead to believe, but the player with Gana on his back is more like a Kanté on sale than a poor version. He has two fewer interceptions than his supposed rich man’s counterpart, but he also has 11 more tackles. You could argue that in terms of breaking up the play, Gana Gueye is almost as good.
Kanté separates himself by being a bit more tidy, drawing less fouls and yellow cards against himself. He also has the ability to do more with the ball once he gets it. Gueye still is a top notch ballwinner though.
4. Wilfried Ndidi (Leicester)
Wilfried Ndidi is literally Kanté’s replacement in Leicester and he hasn’t just replaced him, but he has eclipsed him in tackles and obviously aerial duels won this year. He has a way to go on the interceptions however, as Ndidi ranks 17th compared to Kanté’s 5th among midfielders.
While his height and power gives Ndidi an advantage when it comes to aerial duels, it also makes him more susceptible to cards and fouls. He has more than double the amount of fouls Kanté has. Ndidi has a bit more to contribute with offensively than Gueye though and therefore ranks 4th.
3. Man Utd: Nemanja Matic
Kanté’s midfield companion in their championship season with Chelsea. Matic showed he was fully capable of covering a more standard central midfield role, getting 8 assist in the process. Like with his injury time winning goal last weekend, Matic has shown that he can do more than just defensive duties.
Matic is composed, both on the ball and when he’s chasing it. If you wanted to fill a Busquets role in the Premier League, he might be the best candidate. As a tireless irritant, hounding the opposing midfielders though, he doesn’t quite reach the top.
2. Man City: Fernandinho
A vital and trusted cog in Pep Guardiola’s machine, Fernandinho serves as the last line of defence for Man City’s.. defence. He has played a very important role this year, passing the ball the most of all Man City midfielders, only second to Xhaka in the league. While Fernandinho with his 3 goals and 4 assists has provided an extra spark, it’s defensively he makes his mark.
He doesn’t have the most tackles, interceptions or aerial duels won, but Man City are in possession BY FAR the most in the league. Whenever they are not, Fernandinho makes sure they get the ball back. He has done the same thing for 5 seasons now and is one of the biggest reasons why Man City have been the best team in the league over that time span.
1. Chelsea: N’Golo Kanté
Who else would it be? No one fills the N’Golo Kanté role like N’Golo Kanté.
I already covered why Kanté has such a big impact when he featured in our “10 Best Premier League Players” article. I’ll just leave you with this observation from 2 months into Leicester’s title winning season: