Kante even better than two years back: Louis Saha

  • Former France and Manchester United forward says Poland could make the Euro 2021 semi-finals
Chelsea's N'Golo Kante celebrates with the trophy.(Pool via REUTERS) PREMIUM
Chelsea's N'Golo Kante celebrates with the trophy.(Pool via REUTERS)
Updated on Jun 06, 2021 11:21 AM IST
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By Bhargab Sarmah

Calling for compatriot N’Golo Kante to be nominated for the Ballon d’Or award after his Champions League exploits, former France and Manchester United forward Louis Saha said the Chelsea midfielder is an even better player now than he was a couple of years back.

Speaking to reporters in an interaction facilitated by Sony Sports Network, for whom he will be a pundit for the upcoming European Championship, Saha said Kante has been able to improve his game due to a tweak in his positioning during Maurizio Sarri’s tenure as Chelsea manager.

“The guy (Kante) is a machine. I think he knows even more what he needs to do now than maybe two years ago. When Sarri came to the club and made him play in a different position, I think he improved his game. He can now recover the ball really high up in the field and deliver the right kind of passes,” Saha said.

“He is really accurate and pragmatic in what he is doing. He knows where to run. He won’t be too tired because some players can maybe run more than him but they can’t think like him. He is really smart. So I think he is a very clever player and France will benefit from him because they have (Paul) Pogba, (Antoine) Griezmann and other players (of high quality).”

Kante played a starring role in Chelsea’s Champions League triumph, putting in match-winning shifts in the 1-0 win over Manchester City in the final and in both the semi-final legs against Real Madrid. “I will now be surprised if he is not a contender for Ballon d’Or. He is the only player to win the Man of the Match award in both semi-finals and the final (of the Champions League). He is really a top player who can change the game,” said Saha.

Mbappe still a “baby”

The former United and Everton forward lauded PSG star Kylian Mbappe for continuing to improve since his heroics for France during the 2018 World Cup triumph. “He has made some huge improvements by being very consistent. It was such a huge standard that he set at the World Cup. To maintain the kind of hype he had at that time seemed impossible. He has managed to still be one of the most talented players in the world and has kept improving his game. He can play a bit better now as a No. 9 than before,” said Saha.

“I think he needs maybe to still improve in terms of the sacrifice he needs to make in order for 11 players to defend as a block. This is something he needs to pick up from Cristiano Ronaldo or older players but I think he has been just an amazing talent who was really, really young during the World Cup. He is still a baby. I made massive improvements as a player at 27, 28 years, so imagine what he can become.”

Saha, who was part of the France side that reached the 2006 World Cup final, also said that having Karim Benzema back in the national team fold and the presence of Olivier Giroud will give the side more confidence. “(Benzema brings) more confidence, more options. He brings more quality in the final third. Every touch of his is the right one, with the right timing and has the right weight for a pass,” he said.

“Olivier is a target man. He is very efficient as well inside the box… It makes sense to have Benzema and Giroud in the squad. It does bring more options and more quality in front of goal.”

Talking about the threat of an increase in injuries during the tournament after a tightly-packed season, Saha said: “It’s definitely a risk because there were so many games this season and there wasn’t much of a break. It was like maybe a week for some players. Some players played in the Champions League final and then played four-five days later again. I follow Man United and I was basically turning on the TV every two days to watch them play. I cannot even imagine it as a fan, so the players must be tired. It was a horrendous amount of games. If you see the quality of the performances drop a little bit, I would say it is normal.”

Asked for his semi-final picks, Saha said Robert Lewandowski’s Poland could go far in the tournament. “I see France, Poland – I think they are very talented – England and Belgium in the semi-finals,” he said.

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Sunday, October 24, 2021