Maurizio Sarri often deployed the World Cup winner in an unfamiliar position further forward but it seems he will now be returning to a holding role
Frank Lampard reacted with laughter as he revealed that he has a good idea of where best to deploy N’Golo Kante in his Chelsea starting XI.
The 41-year-old Blues legend was confirmed as Maurizio Sarri’s successor on Thursday, with the west London club having paid the £4 million ($5m) required to release him from his contract with Derby County.
Sarri, who was appointed Juventus head coach in June after just one season at Stamford Bridge, was often criticised for his team selections and specifically where he decided to play World Cup winner Kante.
Kante won the Premier League with Leicester City and Chelsea in consecutive seasons as he established himself as one of world’s top holding midfielders.
Upon Sarri’s arrival in 2018, however, the ex-Blues boss decided to play the 28-year-old in an alternative role, with the Frenchman expected to get forward more and often occupy unnatural positions in wide areas.
The Italian even went as far as saying that he needed a player who “moved the ball fast” at the base of his midfield, suggesting that the former Leicester star was incapable of doing so.
And when asked about Kante on Thursday, Lampard insisted he is “one of the greatest midfielders in the world” and responded with a laugh as he explained that he “thankfully” has an idea of where to play him.
Chelsea secured qualification for next season’s Champions League after finishing in the top four in 2018-19, with Sarri also lifting his first major trophy in management as the Blues beat Arsenal in the Europa League final.
And Lampard is adamant that while he hasn’t been set any targets by Roman Abramovich and the Stamford Bridge board, he knows all about the club’s standards and expectations, and that securing a top-four finish once again is the minimum requirement.
He said: “No they haven’t said that [top four is needed] and I don’t think they need to say that. It is very clear that we are a club that generally, barring a couple of seasons in recent years, are a club that has managed to be top four or winning titles.
“One of the benefits is I know the club. I understand what is expected so it was not even a conversation that I needed to have.
“I played here for many years and I know there are standards. There’s a baseline of being competitive. Of course, there are variables. We know about the transfer ban, we know Man City and Liverpool have pulled away, but we should never stop trying.
“I think apprehension [going into the job] is the wrong word. I’m very aware of what a job of this size means. I can’t hide away from that. I’m a realist, I understand what’s wanted from me from the club and I’ll try to deliver.”
On whether he’d asked for time or patience, Lampard added: “The last thing I want to do is ask for any favours going in. It’s not the way I work.”
One player Lampard won’t be able to work with is his former team-mate Eden Hazard.
The Belgian finally got his dream move to Real Madrid this summer and, while the new Blues boss appreciates what the 28-year-old gave to the club, he is looking to move on ahead of the new season.
He said: “It seemed like something that was really important to Eden and the club and the fans respected that. I felt he gave this club such great times and we’re thankful he was here.
“It’s not one to dwell on. He’s gone and we wish him well. But now it is important about what we do and it is about how to take the club forward.
“You lose one great player, of course, but then how do you get around that? You work on the team and the squad we have is already a very strong squad.”
Lampard gets his managerial career at Chelsea underway with a tough Premier League opener away at Manchester United on August 11 before facing Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the Super Cup on August 14.
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