Last season, one of the major driving forces in Leicester City’s historic Premier League triumph was N’Golo Kante. Signed from French club Caen, the Frenchman was an absolute revelation in the centre of the park – quickly establishing himself as the premiere holding midfielder in England.
Following his move to Chelsea, Kante has continued to perform solidly – perhaps not quite up to the high standards of last season – as a key lieutenant in Antonio Conte’s fearful winning machine.
Now, when comparing Kante to other midfielders of a similar vintage, Manchester United’s world-record signing Paul Pogba does not immediately spring to mind. When you think of Kante, you think of robust challenges and tactical astuteness. When you think of Pogba, you’re more than likely drawn to his penchant for the spectacular, his pervading superstar status.
However, what if we told you that, this season, Pogba has been a better Kante than Kante? Sounds ridiculous, I concede, but sometimes it’s difficult to argue with a bunch of statistics. While I agree that statistics can often contort our view of a player’s form, the following comparisons between Pogba and Kante are striking.
As per the Premier League’s official website, Pogba towers above his compatriot in the ‘defence’ department. While it’s no surprise to see the £89m midfielder leading the way in goals, assists and general attacking play, Pogba also edges out Kante in the Chelsea man’s bread and butter territory.
Pogba has actually managed a higher tackle success rate (67%) than Kante (59%), albeit with 24 fewer tackles in total. However, Pogba has also blocked more shots, completed more clearances – both with his feet and head – won more duels than Kante too, leading 160-142.
Pogba’s 6ft 3in frame has helped him dominate the aerial stats, too, with his 53 aerial battles won comfortably dwarfing Kante’s 12. Kante’s saving grace against his illustrious fellow countryman is having managed twice as many interceptions, but that’s hardly surprising for a player who was literally nicknamed ‘The Interceptor’ last season.
I’m not necessarily suggesting that Pogba is a more effective defensively-minded midfielder than Kante, despite the remarkable picture painted by the statistics. In Kante, Chelsea have a genuine Makelele disciple, a dedicated midfield soldier who tirelessly roams the channels in search of winning possession back.
Pogba, while wholly effective in a number of defensive areas, is an entirely different beast – and is utilised as such. Glamorous, spectacular and thrilling, Pogba’s robust tackling will not often be highlighted for United. Instead, he will be lauded for his contributions further up the pitch, creating chances and acting as a key component in building attacks for Jose Mourinho’s side.
There’s never been any doubt over Pogba’s attacking pedigree, but these statistics perhaps go a long way in portraying him as a rounded, multi-faceted talent who is deservedly central to Mourinho’s vision at United, a vision that appears to be coming together after a turbulent period.
Kante is equally important to Conte, and will continue to act as a steadfast defensive shield in the Italian’s frighteningly perfect 3-4-3 system. Whatever way you take the statistics, what we can agree on is that they’re both exceptional midfielders excelling at their craft.