Leicester City triumphed 3-2 in a hard fought battle against a formidable Everton side on Saturday in what was their seventh victory in their ten match unbeaten run. Leicester will now go into Christmas top of the league after remarkably being bottom at the same point last season.
Riyad Mahrez will capture all the headlines again, scoring twice from two penalties while Jamie Vardy also played a big role, assisting Shinji Okazaki and also winning a penalty. Given how Leicester have done this season, most will point to these two men being key for them.
It’s inevitable that the top teams in the Premier League and around the world will soon be lining up bid big money bids for Mahrez and Vardy. But if you were to ask Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri who his star man is, he might say French central midfielder N’Golo Kanté is the engine that makes Leicester tick.
“He [Kanté] is a quiet boy on the pitch. I never hear from him, never,” said Ranieri last month.
Quiet would describe Kanté’s game against Everton as well — quiet but efficient. He made four tackles, six interceptions and two clearances during the game, which is a continuation of what Kanté has been doing quietly all season.
His boundless energy has helped him intercept the most balls on average in the Premier League (4.2) while he also wins the third most tackles on average (4).
It cannot be understated how important Kanté’s job is in the Leicester midfield. Leicester only had 33% possession in the game against Everton and in general, have rarely had the superior possession compared to their opponents throughout this season. But this is exactly how Leicester play.
Leicester prefer to play without possession, frustrating their opponents and relying on winning the ball back. After all, Leicester don’t have the midfield to play a possession based game like the Arsenal or Manchester City.
However, this game plan has worked consistently as whenever Leicester do get the ball, they quickly and effectively strike on the counter. And this all starts with the 24-year-old Frenchman who breaks up play and provides the ball to Leicester’s more attack minded players.
In a league where possession and sideways passing stats have usually dominated commentary and analysis, Leicester’s tinkerer Ranieri has found a different way to win.
Following the Everton game, Claudio Ranieri reacted:
“Our target is 40 points and I want to speak to my players. It is important to understand what they believe they can achieve and also I will say my ideas about them”.
Recent history suggests that the team on top at Christmas will go on to win the Premier League as five of the last six champions have done just that. It might be asking for too much from the Foxes but whatever Leicester do go on to achieve, Kanté will almost certainly play a big role, as much as Vardy or Mahrez.