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If you were to ask most Chelsea fans at the start of the season to name the one player who was simply unsellable, the resounding answer would have been N’Golo Kanté.
There is a growing feeling amongst Blues supporters the club would be better off selling a player who was regarded as the first name on the teamsheet nine months ago.
There is no denying the 29-year old’s influence on the side has diminished since Maurizio Sarri opted to switch to a three-man midfield in 2018. The Italian’s decision to shunt Kanté out to the right of midfield was a stick regularly used to beat him with.
Jorginho was deployed at No.6, forcing Kanté further upfield. The Frenchman was instructed to win the ball back in the final third as opposed to just in front of the back four as Sarriball took full effect in West London.
This meant a significant increase in Kanté’s goal contributions. He scored four and supplied four assists under Sarri. A stark contrast to the one goal and one assist he recorded in Antonio Conte’s final season at the helm.
Kanté’s more advanced midfield role has also been adopted by current Chelsea manager Frank Lampard.
However, the Blues’ reliance on the midfielder has ceased to exist this term. His trademark dominant midfield performances have been few and far between.
Kanté’s lack of creativity has been on full display, and he has struggled to break teams down who set out with a low block. His best performance under Lampard came in the defeat to Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup last August.
Instead, Chelsea have looked far superior when operating with the midfield trio of Jorginho, Mateo Kovačić and Mason Mount. Jorginho and Kovačić have both rediscovered their Serie A form while Mount has continued to flourish after his stellar season under Lampard at Derby County in 2018/19.
In fairness to Kanté, his season has been plagued with injuries. The Frenchman has suffered numerous muscle injuries throughout the year.
The two-time Premier League winner has only made 16 starts in the league, and only three appearances in the UEFA Champions League – missing the vital last-16 first leg against Bayern Munich.
Kanté's recent injury problems are almost certainly down to the sheer amount of games that he has played in recent years. He's made more than 50 appearances in all of the last four seasons.
However, some Chelsea fans put his recent decline down to the fact he's been playing in a three-man midfield. Kanté's two best seasons in England came whilst operating in a double pivot, next to Danny Drinkwater at Leicester and alongside Nemanja Matić in Conte’s first season at Stamford Bridge.
Unfortunately for Kanté, Lampard seems fairly content with the three-man midfield system he has used since taking charge.
There is also the case of the imminent arrival of Hakim Ziyech. The Moroccan will join the Blues in the summer after five standout seasons in the Eredivisie with Ajax and FC Twente. Ziyech was instrumental in Ajax’s run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019.
After Chelsea beat the rest of Europe to Ziyech's signature, the 27-year-old will expect to be a guaranteed starter. This means Kanté may become even more expendable as he cannot compete with Ziyech's impressive output.
Most fans would surely do a double-take at the suggestion of cashing in on Kanté. At first glance, it makes very little sense to consider selling the only world-class player Chelsea have in their ranks.
A two-time Premier League winner, UEFA Europa League winner and world champion with France, Kanté would be tough to replace.
Furthermore, Kanté played as the defensive midfielder in a midfield three during France’s 2018 FIFA World Cup win in Russia. Sweeping up behind Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi, the tireless midfielder won plenty of plaudits for his superb performances.
Which begs the question, could Kanté play as the No.6 in a midfield three for Chelsea next season? The Blues would boast one of the most all-rounded midfields across Europe with Kanté, Kovačić and Ziyech.
However, if Chelsea were to sell Kanté, this summer would be the ideal time to do so. With Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain previously linked, this window would perhaps be the last time the Blues could demand a huge fee for the 29-year-old.