Panelists Decide On Sobers; Is Kallis Guaranteed The Second Position In The Ultimate XI?

By May 18, 2020
Leighton Levy

Leighton Levy is a journalist with 28 years’ experience covering crime, entertainment, and sports. He joined the staff at SportsMax.TV as a content editor two years ago and is enjoying the experience of developing sports content and new ideas. At SportsMax.tv he is pursuing his true passion - sports.

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  • Chelsea v Tottenham: How Kante has gone back infield and back to his best under Lampard Chelsea v Tottenham: How Kante has gone back infield and back to his best under Lampard

    "Ridiculous" was a word used by Frank Lampard to sum up N'Golo Kante last week - and with good reason. 

    The Chelsea midfielder is back fit, back in the side and more or less back to his best, having missed 16 Premier League matches last season. 

    Kante's "quietly influential" form has helped Lampard's side to a strong start to the season that has left some to bill Sunday's derby clash with Tottenham as something of a title showdown – or at least a game that could well highlight which of the two has the best chance of dethroning Liverpool. 

    A win for either side will move them top of the table after 10 games, but Kante's recent performances might just indicate Chelsea have the edge.

    BACK WHERE HE BELONGS?

    In 2018-19, Maurizio Sarri preferred Jorginho at the base of midfield, with Kante generally shifted to the right of a three. 

    The system was hardly a failure: Chelsea returned to the Champions League, won the Europa League and only lost the EFL Cup final on penalties to Manchester City. Few, though, ever thought it brought the best out of Kante. 

    Since taking charge last year, Lampard has shifted Kante back towards the middle and, as can be seen from his average touch maps, 2020-21 sees a full return for the France international as the midfield anchor.

    N'Golo Kante's touch maps by season, from 2018-19 (L) to 2020-21. The shift from the right-hand side towards the base of midfield is clear.

    He is averaging 82 touches per 90 minutes in the Premier League, the highest figure he has ever posted for Chelsea, five more than in his title-winning debut season in 2016-17. He is also averaging 67 passes per game, more than he ever has before for the club.

    In other words, Kante is very much at the heart of Lampard's Chelsea.

    He is also back to his exceptional defensive levels in 2020-21, averaging three interceptions per game – again the most in his Chelsea career – as well as three tackles, his highest figure under Lampard.

    The caveat is his passes in the final third have dropped by an average of six per game compared to last season and by nine compared to 2018-19, but the creative talent at Lampard's disposal means the burden of attacking is no longer on Kante's shoulders.

    HOJBJERG BATTLE AWAITS

    If Chelsea's form is based in part on the performances of Kante, Tottenham's strong start to the season is very much built on the work of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

    Signed from Southampton for a reported £15million fee, the 25-year-old has established himself as Jose Mourinho's most important player behind the relentlessly brilliant Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

    Through nine rounds of the 2020-21 Premier League campaign, Hojbjerg had managed more touches (809), attempted more passes (695) and completed more passes (619) than any other midfielder in the competition. He has also got stuck into 29 tackles, the third-highest number for midfielders this term and four more than Kante.

    Hojbjerg might not be a player of the Kante mold, but the two have had remarkably similar influences on their teams. Each has one assist in nine league starts, their passing accuracy practically matches (88.5 per cent for Kante, 89.1 for Hojbjerg), and they have made exactly the same number of recoveries (64).

    Effective as they are without the ball, so much of Chelsea and Spurs' good work with it also relies on these two.

    Kante has started 139 open-play sequences this season, eclipsing Hojbjerg (111), but that is about as big a difference as you will find.

    Of those sequences started by Kante, 13 have ended in a shot and two in a goal; for Hojbjerg, 11 have ended in a strike at goal and one has seen Spurs get on the scoresheet.

    Indeed, in terms of involvements in open-play build-up, Kante has managed 423, only slightly up on Hojbjerg's 415. Of those tallies, each player has seen 31 of those involvements end in a shot; when it comes to resulting in a goal, Hojbjerg edges Kante eight to three.

    On Sunday, the winner of the battle for midfield control between these two could well swing the match in his side's favour.

  • Guardiola hails clinical Mahrez, says Man City top performers will not be rotated Guardiola hails clinical Mahrez, says Man City top performers will not be rotated

    Pep Guardiola will demand "more, more, more" from his players after they thumped Burnley 5-0 on the back of Riyad Mahrez's hat-trick.

    Benjamin Mendy and Ferran Torres were also on target as Guardiola's side found their scoring form, having struggled in front of goal in the early months of the season.

    In his role as chief destroyer, Mahrez took his goals haul to seven in his last four Premier League appearances against Burnley.

    His overall total of eight career goals against the Clarets means he has scored more against them in the Premier League than any other side.

    The Algerian winger also took his tally of goal involvements in the Premier League to 102 (61 goals, 41 assists), making him the sixth African player to reach triple figures in the competition.

    Such an impact means Mahrez looks set for a run in the City team, with Guardiola insisting the time for squad rotation in the Premier League is over, at least until the Champions League knockout rounds begin in February.

    "Of course there will be players who are tired and need some rest," Guardiola said, "but they will play, the guys who defend well and score goals.

    "The guys who do it will have more chances to play. It's not about right now making rotations. They are going to play more, more, more until they are tired."

    Mahrez has clearly helped his cause, with the big win largely of his making, and Guardiola urged others to follow the former Leicester City player's lead.

    "The last week or few days he's been much, much better and we saw him sharper," Guardiola said.

    "Of course [a big win] can help us, especially for Riyad. Riyad has to score goals, the other ones have to score goals, [Raheem] Sterling when he plays has to score goals, and they don't score much.

    "They have to score goals and that's the reason why they are here and play up front."

    In the final reckoning, City had 68.6 per cent of possession and 19 shots to Burnley's nine.

    Twice in the Premier League this season, City have taken more shots at goal, but they could not force a win on either occasion, losing 2-0 to Tottenham despite having 22 attempts and drawing 1-1 with Leeds United regardless of their 23 shots at the West Yorkshire side's goal.

    City had scored just 10 times and lost twice in their opening eight Premier League games this season, which was hardly the start their manager wanted after being pushed aside by a rampant Liverpool in last season's one-sided title race.

    Now, after inflicting another 5-0 defeat on Burnley - strangely, that has been the scoreline in their last four Etihad Stadium clashes with Sean Dyche's side - there is greater cause for optimism.

    But Guardiola does not mind by how many goals his team win, as long as they continue to beat rival sides.

    "It's not important; the important thing is winning games," said the former Barcelona head coach. "You can win it with a big margin and that's good, but I'm not expecting that every game we go out there and score a lot of goals.

    "The important thing is to create the chances - every game we have a lot and today we were good and we converted."

    For an afternoon at least, City did not miss Sergio Aguero.

    The Argentine striker's knee injury has meant he has missed most of the season to date, and Guardiola reported that remained a problem, saying Aguero had been unable to train earlier in the day.

    "We know the injury he had is not easy for the recovery. We have to handle it as best as possible," Guardiola said. "When he is ready he will start to train with us and play."

  • Diego Maradona dies: Juventus and Benevento halt game to pay tribute to Napoli great Diego Maradona dies: Juventus and Benevento halt game to pay tribute to Napoli great

    Play was stopped in the 10th minute of the Serie A clash between Benevento and Juventus as players and coaching staff from both teams paid tribute to Diego Maradona. 

    Argentina great Maradona, who lit up the Italian top flight during seven seasons with Napoli, died of natural causes at the age of 60 on Wednesday. 

    Tributes have been paid across the sporting world this week, with a minute's silence being held ahead of each Serie A game, during which players will wear black armbands. 

    An image of Maradona is also being shown on stadium screens in the 10th minute of each fixture, marking the shirt number he wore, along with a "Ciao Diego" message.

    Benevento and Juve players, including Argentina international Paulo Dybala, went a step further with their tributes as play came to a standstill on Saturday for those present to applaud arguably the greatest ever footballer. 

    Maradona led Napoli to league titles in 1987 and 1990 and the club plan to rename their San Paolo home in his honour.

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