Former Chelsea assistant Gianfranco Zola has defended Maurizio Sarri’s reluctance to play N’Golo Kante in his favoured midfield role last season.
Two-time Premier League winner Kante has become a firm fan favourite at Chelsea since his €35.80m transfer from Leicester City in 2016. He even won the PFA Player of the Year award during his debut campaign at the club.
The 28-year-old has already made 142 appearances in all competitions and helped the Blues win a league title, an FA Cup and the Europa League.
But Sarri’s arrival at Stamford Bridge to replace Antonio Conte changed everything for Kante. The Italian coach quickly shifted him out of his favoured holding role in favour of his old Napoli star Jorginho.
Kante was instead made to play in an advanced midfield role and struggled to make his usual impact for Chelsea. However, Zola insists the Frenchman had no problems with Sarri’s decision.
“There are two reasons for that,” Zola told beIN SPORTS.
“The main reason is the way Sarri plays, the sitting midfielder plays the most passes.
“Last year, Jorginho played between 140 and 160 passes [per match], sometimes more. Sarri wants someone who is confident to get on the ball and play, someone who is influential.
“The second reason is that Kante is not a sitting midfielder. He has always played in a midfield two – first with Leicester and then in his first two years with Chelsea.”
Zola added: “At Leicester, he played with [Danny] Drinkwater, who was the sitter.
“He was moving a lot, free to go forward, sideways, backwards – whatever he wanted.
“The same early at Chelsea when [Nemanja] Matic was the sitting one and Kante was doing the same job.
“We spoke to him about it and he was very happy to play in that position, he liked that position.”