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Chelsea cannot repeat Real Madrid's Claude Makelele error with N'Golo Kante

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“We will not miss Claude Makelele,” Real Madrid president Florentino Perez confidently claimed after the midfielder was sold to Chelsea in the summer of 2003.

“His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and 99 per cent of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways. He wasn’t a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres.”

Perez had, rather empathically, missed the point. Those supposed weaknesses were exactly what made Makelele so important to Real Madrid; he did the dirty work that allowed others to shine.

Zinedine Zidane knew that and famously quipped: "Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”

Real’s mistake was undoubtedly Chelsea’s gain. Los Blancos didn’t win another trophy for three years after Makelele’s departure. Over that same period, with the Frenchman at the base of their midfield, the Blues twice won the Premier League.

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It is unfathomable such a mistake would be made in the modern game, especially given the increasing influence of data analytics.

But history has a way of repeating itself, rarely for the good.

Which is why Chelsea fans might have been concerned by recent reports which claim the club are, if needed, prepared to sell N’Golo Kante this summer to fund deals for Kai Havertz and Ben Chilwell.

It’s not been an easy season for the World Cup winner. Injuries have restricted Kante to just 21 starts in all competitions, by far the fewest he has managed since arriving from Leicester City in 2016.

The debate over whether he is being used correctly has raged on, too.

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Lampard, like predecessor Maurizio Sarri, has predominantly utilised the Frenchman as a box-to-box midfielder with Jorginho deployed as a regista in front of the defence.

However, many feel Kante is best used in the ‘Makelele role’, a defensive screen in front of the backline. Some cite his performances for Leicester City as the reason for that belief.

However, at the King Power Stadium, Kante was part of a midfield two alongside Danny Drinkwater. He didn’t just sit in front of the defence and wait to snuff out attacks. Instead, he was allowed to follow play in order to win back possession.

He has greater attacking responsibility at Chelsea, but that ability to harass and close down opponents across the pitch continues to be encouraged. And for good reason.

The Blues have a number of talented midfielders with a range of talents: Mateo Kovacic can dance beyond challenges; Jorginho is an excellent passer; Ross Barkley is a powerful runner, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek can do a bit of everything.

Yet when it comes to defensive instinct and an insatiable desire to win back possession and give it to a more flamboyant team-mate, Kante stands alone.

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In the Premier League this season, no Chelsea player has attempted more defensive actions per 90 (14.85) nor won more defensive duels per 90 (2.46).

Kante also commits, by some distance, more fouls per 90 than his team-mates (2.29), further proof of his tendency to halt attacks before they get started.

It has been encouraging to see Lampard's use of him in that role in recent matches, with the Blues boss appearing to dismiss those reports by suggesting he would not entertain the sale of Kante to fund the arrivals of Havertz et al.

If Havertz is to join alongside Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, the Blues will possess one of the most talented and exciting attacking units in the Premier League.

They will, however, need someone to do the dirty work. Someone to knit everything together selflessly. In Kante, they have that someone and he would be almost impossible to replace.

Seventeen years ago, Chelsea took advantage of Perez’s short-sightedness. This summer, they need to show they are far wiser than the Real Madrid president.




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