Since 2015, French midfielder N’Golo Kanté has exceeded expectations time and time again.
When he first arrived at Leicester City, he was supposed to be an unknown randomer, but he proved to be a title-winning phenomenon.
He then moved to Chelsea, where he dismissed any fears of being a one-season wonder by leading the Blues to their own glory. World Cup triumph soon followed.
Maurizio Sarri pushed Kanté to his limit by playing him further forward, but the Frenchman still rose to the challenge and arguably produced some of the best football of his career.
However, one obstacle which he has so far failed to conquer is adapting to life in Frank Lampard’s midfield.
Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Newcastle United was not kind to Kanté. Chelsea pressed high and enjoyed an obscene amount of possession just outside Newcastle’s penalty box, and they needed someone to make that final pass or decisive move.
That wasn’t Kanté. He is not creative enough to make a defence-splitting pass, he’s not dangerous enough to drive into the box and he’s not prolific enough to take regular shots on goal.
However, the problem was that he was played in the advanced midfield role, so it was his responsibility to contribute to goals. It felt like a cog jammed into the wrong machine.
The Newcastle game wasn’t the first example of that. The Blues have won just five Premier League matches with Kanté in the team and only one with him in the advanced midfield role, compared to seven victories without him.
Kanté shouldn’t be playing in this role, but then where do you play him?
He can’t start over Jorginho, the metronomic tempo-setter in this side (who, for the record, was equally ineffective against Newcastle), so it seems like Kanté only really has a place in a 4-2-3-1 formation alongside either Jorginho or Mateo Kovačić at the base of the midfield.
Let’s just be clear, Kanté is still a phenomenal footballer. His stamina, work rate and defensive awareness make him perhaps the finest player of his ilk in the entire world, but that’s only if he is playing in the right position.
When out of his comfort zone, just as he is under Lampard, Kanté looks ineffective and has actually made the team worse at times.
It almost seems like Kanté is being used as a stopgap until Ruben Loftus-Cheek returns from his lengthy injury layoff. The Englishman actually offers everything which Chelsea need from an advanced midfielder and will likely waltz into the team if he can rediscover his best form.
Perhaps that could be exactly what Kanté needs. He was a secondary creator under Sarri last season as he played alongside Kovačić, and taking up a similar role alongside Loftus-Cheek could bring the best out of him once more.
However, until then, he seems set to be used as a focal point of Chelsea’s attack, which sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Kanté has made a career out of defying expectations, and if anyone can rise to this challenge, it’s him. However, the early signs are not encouraging.
He’s not the answer to Chelsea’s current problems, and it’s up to both him and Lampard to figure out a solution.