N’Golo Kante “becomes an animal that never stops running” when he puts on the Chelsea shirt, team-mate Davide Zappacosta has told Stats Perform.
The France international has won three major honours in five years at Chelsea since joining from Leicester City, where he played his part in a shock Premier League triumph in 2016.
He has also lifted the World Cup with France and will be looking to add a first Champions League title to his collection when Chelsea take on Manchester City in Saturday’s final.
Kante is a fitness doubt for the all-English showpiece and would be a huge miss for the Blues should he fail to fully recover from a niggling hamstring complaint.
The 2.48 interceptions Kante averaged per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season trailed only Wilfred Ndidi (2.52) among midfielders to have played at least 20 times.
He also ranked fifth for tackles per 90 with 3.31 – Leicester’s Ndidi again led the way with 3.97 – and his importance was further highlighted in the European win over Atletico Madrid.
Kante recovered possession 13 times in the 2-0 last-16 first-leg victory – the most by a Chelsea player in the Champions League since Kante’s own 13 versus Barcelona in February 2018.
The former Leicester man’s on-field persona is completely different to how he acts off it, though, where he often comes across as shy and reserved.
“What makes him so appreciated is his natural goodness and being genuine,” said Zappacosta, who played in the same side as Kante for two seasons before spells with Roma and Genoa on loan.
“This kind of player conquers our hearts and is respected by all of us. Honestly, outside of the pitch, he is professional and calm; on it, he transforms.
“It’s like he suffers from a double personality syndrome. Outside the pitch, he is so calm, and then on it, he becomes an animal that never stops running and is tough in duels.
“But he is an exceptional player and a very good chap.”
Kante has formed a solid partnership with Jorginho in front of Chelsea’s back four under Thomas Tuchel, the latter also topping Chelsea’s scoring charts in the Premier League this season with seven goals, each of them penalties.
And Zappacosta is pleased that his compatriot, who is expected to be part of Italy’s final Euro 2020 squad, has proved his doubters wrong.
“He has showed he can adapt to different roles in midfield,” Zappacosta said. “Whether it’s three midfielders or two, it makes no difference.
“If after so many Chelsea managers he is still in the starting line-up, there must be a reason. I think he is a very good player, very intelligent. He deserves to be there.”
Zappacosta is set to return to Chelsea ahead of next season after a year on loan with Genoa, where he made 25 Serie A appearances, scoring four goals.
The 28-year-old has been impressed with the work Tuchel has done in west London since taking over from Frank Lampard midway through the campaign.
“I haven’t watched so many Chelsea games in the Premier League because I was often playing at the same time,” said Zappacosta, who has been linked with a move to Atalanta.
“But I have watched them in the Champions League and I have been impressed by their solidity and absurd intensity, and most of all by their style and ideas.
“They play really well and I am so happy they managed to get to the final. I guess you can see the great work done by the new manager and his staff.
“You see they are compact, intense and almost playing by heart. It is a pleasure to watch them play.”
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