As Claudio Ranieri’s Fulham make the short trip to Stamford Bridge for Sunday’s derby, many expect the reception to be warmer for ex-Chelsea boss Ranieri than for what a fellow former Blues manager had gone on to experience in recent memory.
While it is understood a hospitable atmosphere will be afforded for Ranieri, who managed the Blues in the early 2000s, by the Chelsea faithful, this may also seem like an accurate description of how he will be received by some of the players in the current Blues squad, which contain a couple of his former players Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante at Leicester with which he won the Premier League in 2015-2016.
While the former has plunged the depths of obscurity, the latter has continued his development as a player in the game. No longer solely earmarked as a defensive specialist, Kante has gone on to feature in an advanced midfield role. Yet despite showing promise further upfront with his astute short passing and link-up play, qualities of his which are underestimated more often than not, Sarri has recently revealed his frustrations regarding the French midfielder’s positioning during particular situations in a match.
Nevertheless, the 59-year-old looks set to persist with Kante in the No7 role for Chelsea and it is a decision which Ranieri agrees with. While the ex-Leicester manager has backed Kante to eventually flourish in a new position under Sarri, he has stressed the importance of stopping the French midfield dynamo at the weekend.
“For us at Leicester N’Golo was a fantastic midfielder with Danny Drinkwater, they understood very, very well what I wanted,” said the 67-year-old Fulham manager. “But now he’s a Chelsea player, and it’s important for us to stop him.
“He’s fantastic, because N’Golo is intelligent, he can run, attack and defend. He was very important for me, and he’s very important for Sarri.”
Back in Leicester’s title-winning year, Ranieri played Kante alongside Drinkwater at the base of a flat midfield four, which is different from Sarri’s preferred three-man midfield with only one midfielder occupying the pivot role, but the Fulham boss has stated that he always saw Kante as the player who would roam further upfield and it is a quality he sees Sarri will be hoping to get the best out of from the French midfielder.
“N’Golo’s an intelligent midfielder. When I watched him, he was a little more, as well as now, a midfielder who would go forward,” added Ranieri.
“But for me with him and Drinkwater I said to one to attack and one to defend, each time, I didn’t want both attacking and no one in front of the defensive line.
“Sarri wants one midfielder, a holding midfielder in Jorginho, and so okay, Kante can go and attack as well. It’s very nice for him to have a lot of options.
“Sarri plays very well with the right philosophy, Sarriball.”