I think Chelsea fans need to understand that there are two types of deep midfielders. The one most seem to be familiar with is DM (Defensive Midfielder). They are essentially destructive midfielders whose primary job is to shield the back 4. They are there to protect the defence. Usually deployed by teams who prefer to play on the back foot or the counter.
The other kind of deep midfielder that most Chelsea fans seem to be unaware of is a regista – a deep-lying playmaker tasked with the responsibility of recycling possession, spraying passes, dictating the tempo of the game, and most crucially drawing the opposition out and finding gaps in midfield that the attacking players can exploit.
Now the confusing part is 4-3-3 can have either DM or regista. They play the exact same position on the pitch in the base of the midfield. The only difference is the approach and the style of play. In Sarriball, there is no DM. Period. Sarri will rather play Fabregas there over Kante because tackling and ball-winning are secondary attributes that Sarri demands. His first concern is always how his team can utilise the ball. A regista is therefore essential to fulfill this demand. Yes, Kante can play short passes and keep the ball under pressure. However, he does not have the footballing brain to dictate the game. He can’t pass to draw the opposition out. He can’t pass to find holes. He can’t pass to create spaces. This is something that only a specialist can.
Now Jorginho is not as good as Xabi Alonso or Andrea Pirlo. However, he is arguably the best in the PL at this job. Precisely the reason Guardiola was all over Jorginho in the summer. So the bottom line is there is not even a chance Sarri is gonna abandon his entire philosophy to play on the counter. He is not gonna deploy a defensive midfielder. All he’s gonna do is get more out of his attacking players. He is trying to revamp the entire playing culture at this club, so it’s gonna take some time before it’s executed with aplomb.
This leaves Kante in a rather tricky situation. He was never a true DM anyway. He was always a machine at covering every blade of grass on the pitch. Kante playing for a team that averages around 50% possession is indispensable. He is an unreal asset on a different level when he is chasing opposition for most of the game. However, when he is playing for a team that enjoys 70% possession, his role largely becomes redundant. To make it worse, he is asked to create and score which has never been his forte.
Against a team like Liverpool, no matter what approach we play – Kante should always be one of the first names on the teamsheet. No two ways about it. But when we are playing an opposition that barely strings two attacks all game and we are being forced to ask questions at their defence for 90% of the game – You gotta wonder if a midfielder with greater attacking instinct will prove more beneficial. Kante is an unreal player, an amazing athlete, an incredible ball winner but in Sarriball he could be dispensable.