Roles reversed for Foxes because of Kante
Leicester have lost their 'Cantona' and won't recover
CHELSEA v LEICESTER
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Ask Gary McAllister. Ask Tony Dorigo or Lee Chapman. Ask anyone from the legendary Leeds United side from 1992 and they'll mostly say the same thing.
They won the title with Eric Cantona. They lost the title without him.
Perhaps many years from now, the Leicester City team will gather to reminisce about the time they touched immortality and share similar sentiments.
They won the title with N'Golo Kante. They lost the title without him.
When the Foxes cross Stamford Bridge tonight, they'll see their history and future in a single man, a superman: An automaton without parallel last season.
Most of all, they'll see a brother. They ran with the Frenchman all the way to the end of the rainbow, grabbing a silver pot that no minnows are ever likely to touch again.
Kante made that possible. But now he plays for Chelsea. The 25-year-old believes his yellow brick road should lead to the Champions League, every year, from next year.
Ironically, the Foxes are sampling a little continental fare now while the Blues can only look on from afar, at least for a season.
But the roles are likely to reverse, thanks in no small part to Kante.
Like the Leeds faithful after Cantona's departure, Leicester's fans could be forgiven for singing the old Joni Mitchell classic.
You don't know what you've Got 'Til It's Gone.
According to Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson, Cantona was an unrefined gem that he couldn't quite control, but could just about live without.
Cantona's kind of magic made for sensational highlights reels, but he didn't track back. For Wilkinson, that was a critical flaw.
For Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, that was an irrelevance. Cantona's box of tricks conjured narrow victories from nowhere. His perceived negatives at Leeds were easily outweighed by his recognised positives at United.
But Kante has no recognised character or professional flaws. Yet Claudio Ranieri's admiration could never match the Frenchman's ambition.
Leicester were always going to be one-season wonders, but Kante didn't have to be.
And as the Foxes languish in 12th position, his incomparable value fully reveals itself.
Riyad Mahrez and Vardy stole the show last season, but Kante picked the pockets. He provided an impenetrable shield in front of the ageing duo Robert Huth and Wes Morgan.
Neither centre back had ever enjoyed a campaign quite like it before. But then, they'd never played behind Kante before.
The irrepressible dynamo averaged 4.7 tackles and 4.2 interceptions per game at Leicester - the highest in the EPL in both categories.
The old joke at the club was Ranieri played a three-man midfield, with Kante either side of Danny Drinkwater.
In that run of slender 1-0 victories last season, Kante's indefatigable industry proved crucial. Just 1.69m tall, he wasn't a brutish rock, but a blurry whirlwind. He was everywhere.
Poor Daniel Amartey is struggling to replicate Kante's workrate in central midfield. The 21-year-old Ghanaian needs more experience. He also needs another lung.
Tonight, the midfield master and Leicester's new apprentice will shake hands at the Bridge, but they could end up being passing ships in the night.
Kante's new club crest comes with new responsibilities, a new role even and the acclimatisation process is taking longer than expected.
Cantona joined United because Ferguson handed his French artist a blank canvas and a pot or brushes and allowed him to daub one masterpiece after another, as long as he always painted in vibrant reds.
But Kante is still squeezing himself into Antonio Conte's fixed template.
Ranieri's exhilarating counter-attacking has given way to Chelsea's more sedate possession game.
Kante once lit fireworks and stepped back to admire the explosions. Now he plays with sparklers.
So he tackles less and passes more. On average, he makes 65 passes a game for Chelsea. At Leicester, the figure was only 39.
But the midfielder has dropped to 10th on the tackles list and ranks 35th in interceptions.
At Stamford Bridge, there's more of the ball, but less bite.
Kante is still adjusting in a transitional side, so he's highly unlikely to emulate Cantona's feat of winning consecutive titles at different clubs.
But, whatever the outcome of tonight's match, the weaker Foxes will be reminded of what they have lost when they meet an old friend in a new shirt.
Like Leeds after Cantona, Leicester have already lost.
BY THE NUMBERS
Leicester City have conceded 10 goals (in three matches) away from home this term, the highest in the EPL.