Sunday 25 February 2018

Kante's display underlines what makes Leicester tick

N'golo Kante challenges Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez for possession . Photo: Getty
N'golo Kante challenges Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez for possession . Photo: Getty

Ian Herbert

It was from the top of the league, and with their heads held high, that the Leicester City players went to applaud their 3,000 fans at the final whistle.

They had delivered another impressive collective performance - 10 of their starters were immaculate - which, but for a few minor details, and one major one, might have earned them a win even more impressive, and more important, than they had achieved at Manchester City nine days ago.

Leicester came to the Emirates with precisely the same game plan they had used at the Etihad. They defended deep, absorbed pressure, luring their opponents on to them so they could hit them on the break. It was simple football, perfectly executed, and they deserved their half-time lead.

Then, in five second-half minutes, the game changed. Danny Simpson committed two silly fouls and was sent off. Claudio Ranieri had to withdraw Riyad Mahrez for Marcin Wasilewski, not exactly like for like, and the momentum, and the space, was with Arsenal.


Those two fouls were desperately out of character with a side built on selfless, intelligent defending. This was their first red card of the season, and it cost them.

It was a mistake, a concentration lapse, and footballers at all levels make them, regardless of the context. But Leicester are now playing for such high stakes that any error will be magnified and held up as the difference between winning the title and not.

Simpson, it must be said, did not make the only lapse in discipline. Wasilewski, his sub-par replacement, gave away a needless free-kick on Nacho Monreal in added time from which Danny Welbeck headed the winner.

While this is a star-less team, and a reminder that football is a team game, Leicester's spirit and style were encapsulated perfectly by midfielder N'Golo Kante.

This was one of the performances of the season from Kante, at least as good as when he drew the Jose Mourinho era to a close by shutting Chelsea down at the King Power Stadium just before Christmas.

Kante dominated midfield, in partnership with Danny Drinkwater, winning every loose ball and stealing many straight from the toes of his opponents.

Kante has been called a destroyer but there is far more to his game than just breaking up play. In the battle between Kante and Francis Coquelin, there was only one winner. If France manager Didier Deschamps was watching this match, it will have been immediately clear to him which of the two uncapped midfielders he should take to Euro 2016. (© Independent News Service)

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