Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri insists N’Golo Kante is “very important” for Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea.
France’s World Cup-winning midfielder Kante formed the bedrock of Ranieri’s 2016 Premier League winners at Leicester, but has been challenged to play higher up the field this season under Sarri at Chelsea.
Taskmaster Blues boss Sarri will not play Kante in his more accustomed defensive midfield role – and Ranieri has backed that stance.
“For us at Leicester N’Golo was a fantastic midfielder with Danny Drinkwater, they understood very, very well what I wanted,” said Ranieri, ahead of Fulham’s Premier League trip to Chelsea on Sunday.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
Sarri sought out Ranieri and asked to observe training when the current Fulham boss was coaching Fiorentina back in the mid-1990s.
Ranieri rejected suggestions Sarri has based his playing style on those observations, instead claiming he himself looks up to the former investment banker.
“I spoke with him; he remembers me, he came to me and said ‘can I come to watch your training session?’,” said former Chelsea boss Ranieri.
“But I think Sarri is not inspired by me, he’s a very good coach, because he arrived so late at the highest level.
“He deserves it. He has a lot of jobs in his career, and he deserves where he is.”
Sarri recently returned the favour by inviting Ranieri into Chelsea training, with the new Fulham boss admitting the trip proved beneficial.
Asked about visiting Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, Ranieri added: “Yes I have been there, he was very, very kind with me. I saw some very interesting things.”
Ranieri enjoyed his first taste of English football when managing Chelsea between 2000 and 2004, and admitted he always loves returning to Stamford Bridge.
Joking about Eden Hazard’s Chelsea goal against Tottenham that helped Leicester win that improbable Premier League crown, Ranieri said: “It’s always special going there, because I came to England with Chelsea and I had four fantastic years at Chelsea.
“And also Hazard scored a great goal for Leicester, so thank you Eden, again!
“It’s a tough game, Sarri has made a very good group. It’s important now for us that we understand where we have to improve.”