N’Golo Kante is playing like a midfield boss again for Chelsea and Frank Lampard could not be happier for the two-time Premier League winner.
The midfield dynamo, who played a big part in Leicester City’s title success before repeating the feat with Chelsea, has shaken off ankle and muscle injury strife to shine this season.
He captained the side in a comfortable 2-0 win at Newcastle United on Saturday, as Chelsea at least briefly went to the top of the table.
It was a frustration to Lampard that Kante missed large part of the 2019-20 campaign, because the manager knows the World Cup winner brings proven quality and valuable experience.
Kante is playing a key role for a Chelsea side that are unbeaten in nine games across all competitions, winning five in a row.
Lampard said: “I’m really, really happy with how he’s playing.
“Last year he missed 50 per cent of the games with injuries, he had a tough time for different reasons and we are working very hard on that to get him as fit and fresh [as possible].
“Now we are managing his training and game time, but his levels of performances are really high.”
Lampard sees Kante as not so much an organiser and a disrupter of play, which are clear strengths, but as a footballer with a broad, under-rated range of qualities.
“I keep saying every time I get asked about N’Golo that I have so much faith in him and the top midfield player that he is in world football,” said the Chelsea boss. “Not just at breaking up and winning balls back, as we know that is a huge quality of his, but his passing and supporting in midfield and playing in that deeper role now.”
Kante made four tackles and three interceptions against Newcastle, which were both team-highs. He played 75 passes – 70 short and five long – and had 93.8 per cent accuracy with his 48 passes inside the Newcastle half.
Such data draws perhaps less attention than the goals and assists Chelsea will also require to sustain a challenge at the top of the table, but Lampard appreciates the significance.
Another title tilt is something that the manager is reluctant to talk about, but should Kante stay fit then it might be a realistic ambition.
Lampard knows Chelsea are better off with the 29-year-old in their team, which is why he has been starting almost every game this term, and the Blues certainly hope the worst of Kante’s injury troubles are over.
“I don’t want to tempt fate because at the minute he is going well,” Lampard said. “We have had a better period of him to get him in a place where we are really happy.”
For Chelsea, it is a case of ensuring Kante does not over-stretch himself.
Nobody ran further in Chelsea’s team than Kante’s 11.33 kilometres at St James’ Park, and the impact of his exertions is closely monitored.
“We’re very aware and we keep check on his training and his numbers and how much distance he travels, because every time you train and allow him off the leash in training he makes ridiculous output because that’s the way he plays,” Lampard said.
“We are very careful with that and at the minute we are in a good place and hopefully that continues.”