Deadly mole digs deep
Killer Kante ready to prove why he's signing of season
CHELSEA v TOTTENHAM
(1.30am, tomorrow, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Jamie Redknapp came up with the nickname.
The TV pundit called N'Golo Kante a "mole" and it's a fitting description.
Against all expectations, the silent operator defected.
Kante swopped one blue camp for another and continues to go about his surveillance work with a sly intelligence.
Of course, Redknapp was referring to the furry mammal that pops up all over the turf wreaking havoc.
And Kante will certainly be burrowing away at Stamford Bridge tomorrow morning (Singapore time) when Chelsea host Tottenham.
While Redknapp has the right nickname for Kante, it is used in the wrong context.
For the second successive season, the quiet midfielder is penetrating the title race with all the guile and cunning of an espionage agent.
He's the primary reason why the Blues are eyeing both a seventh consecutive victory and a seventh clean sheet in the English Premier League.
He's already the signing of the season, a mere snip at £32 million (he's one third of a Paul Pogba and three times as consistent.)
Indeed, Kante's surprising switch from Leicester to Chelsea epitomises his latent ambition and understated aggression on the pitch.
Of all the sly Foxes expected to swop European football for an eye-watering pay rise, Kante wasn't considered the leading contender.
But it was Kante who departed and his exit suddenly revealed a steely individual with the unwavering focus of a professional assassin.
Leicester offered Champions League football, but Kante wanted more.
He didn't see Europe as the jaunty epilogue to a Cinderella story. He saw the continent as an annual destination.
His move to Chelsea revealed not a happy-go-lucky, pocket dynamo, but a ruthless operator with an insatiable thirst for silverware.
And like one of his recovery tackles, no one really saw it coming.
Kante thinks as he plays. He's methodical, insightful and runs on a relentless engine of ambition.
Claudio Ranieri knew what he was losing. The Leicester manager's demeanour has at times resembled a father losing his favourite son.
Conte wasn't entirely sure what he was getting, not at first.
When Kante lost possession in that calamitous 3-0 defeat by Arsenal and was then outpaced by Mesut Oezil and, inexplicably, the referee, there was a sense of a one-season wonder losing his mojo.
But Conte's tactical switch to a back three galvanised Kante. Alongside a resurgent Nemanja Matic and two overlapping wingers, Kante found himself part of a midfield whose complexion was similar to Leicester's.
And the 25-year-old returned with a cold, dispassionate resurgence.
Kante and Chelsea's revival go hand in glove and his recent stats are simply extraordinary.
According to WhoScored.com, the Frenchman is third in the Premier League's combined list of tackles and interceptions (401 in 49 games).
Arsenal's Nacho Monreal and Stoke City's Erik Pieters are just ahead of him, which seems bizarre, but the list incorporates the last three seasons.
And he racked up his impressive numbers in just over a year while Monreal needed 76 appearances to reach 404. Pieters has 403 from 77 games.
Kante is a modern midfield phenomenon, a swift, 68kg-slab of lean muscle perfectly calibrated for the pinball wizardry of counter-surging.
He shepherds the back three. He serves the three up front and he does this repeatedly, an unstoppable piston of penetration.
At Leicester, the joke was that Kante played on the left, Danny Drinkwater played in the middle and Kante played on the right.
Spurs are already missing Danny Rose (suspended) and Ben Davies (injured), and need Chelsea's mischievous mole plotting against them like they need an early Champions League exit.
Mauricio Pochettino boasts a fine selection of midfielders, but none can rival Kante's consistency and tenacity.
But then no one else in the EPL can, either.
If Kante continues to do the work of two men, he'll end up with two titles.
Wounded Spurs face major hurdle
"We need to keep our chins up because this is another big game." — Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (above) on the visit to Chelsea after their midweek loss to Monaco PHOTO: AFP
Tottenham Hotspur face a major test of nerves when they return to Stamford Bridge tomorrow morning (Singapore time), the scene of the 2-2 draw that ended their title challenge last season.
Spurs had nine players booked and Mousa Dembele was hit with a six-game ban for gouging Chelsea striker Diego Costa's eye in a stormy May 2 encounter that delivered the Premier League crown to Leicester City.
Mauricio Pochetttino's side are licking their wounds once again, having been dumped out of the Champions League by Monaco, but goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris believes the players will relish the challenge.
"I said the same after we lost against (Bayer) Leverkusen at Wembley: this is the best type of game to bounce back," said the France international, after Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Monaco at the Stade Louis II.
"It's a big disappointment, but we need to keep our chins up because this is another big game."
Harry Kane struck twice late on as Spurs came from behind to beat West Ham United 3-2 at White Hart Lane in their previous league outing.
But that was Spurs' only win in their last nine fixtures in all competitions, a run that has seen them slide to fifth in the table, four points below leaders Chelsea.
Chelsea, in stark contrast, are flying, having won their last six games without conceding a goal and will be defending an unbeaten home record against Spurs stretching back 26 years.
Said centre-back Gary Cahill: "We're happy with our work, but the league isn't won now.
"There's plenty more football - it's not even Christmas yet - so keep going, keep the foot down and keep trying to produce performances like we have been in the last few weeks."
Yesterday, Pochettino spoke about how the absence of European football for Chelsea will give them a slight advantage.
He said: "We cannot have one week to prepare, so it is normal that the opponents have an advantage. But that is not an excuse for who wins or loses.
"We need to be ready because this is the nature of the competition." - AFP.