Before Antonio Conte arrived in London to take control of Chelsea in the summer, he had never heard of Leicester City'smarauding midfielder N'Golo Kante.
Likewise, it would be surprising if Kante had much knowledge of Conte while he was helping the Foxes to their maiden Premier League title. But the two are now together, and it seems like a match made in heaven.
While it might seem strange to compare Kante's new club to his former club and champions Leicester, there are, strangely,certain similarities beginning to develop.
Firstly, the arrival of the French midfielder at the King Power stadium took Leicester from a side that had only survived relegation thanks to a late surge of form, to title challengers.Of course there were other contributing factors, but the one main difference to the side that had finished 14th the previous year, was indeedKante.
The indefatigable25-year-old seems to have an air of success about him wherever he plays,and it's no coincidence that, like Leicester did, Chelsea have gone from mid table to undoubted title contenders with him in the side.
An argument could be made that there hasn't been much change to the Chelsea XI that won the title in the 2014-15 season, but that didn't stop them finishing in a lowly 10th place last season.
Kante has made a flying start under anotherItalian coach, although it hadn't all been plain sailing until recently. When Arsenal demolished the Blues 3-0 at the Emirates at the end of September, Chelsea sat in 8th having already fallen to a lacklustre defeat at home to Liverpool. Doubts began to creep in that a repeat of last season was on the horizon, with rumours even that Conte's job may have been at risk.
His words after that heavy defeat were simply: "I have to solve the situation." And that he did, introducing the increasingly popular back three to try and eradicate the excessive defensive mistakes. Clearly it worked; Chelsea have scored eleven goals and conceded a grand total of zero in the Premier Leaguesince their trip to North London.
Chelsea's Premier League record since switching to 3-4-3:
4 clean sheets
Conte's masterplan. pic.twitter.com/IVEDdUqDNB
The influence of bothKante and Contewas typified in Sunday's 2-0 win against Southampton, arguably a more impressive victory than the thrashing of Jose Mourinho's Manchester United that preceded it. The Saints hadn't been defeated at home since February but Chelsea swatted them aside with consummate ease, looking every bit the type of cohesive unit needed to win a Premier League trophy. Unsurprisingly, Kante's Leicester were similarly cohesive.
As Gary Neville said onSky Sports, the "clean sheet mentality" of Conte's men was evident in their commanding win on the south coast. A steely defencehas been a feature of many of the recent winners of England's top flight, not least Leicester who managed an impressive 15.
Also evident was the infectious energy that spreads to the team through Conte on the sidelines and Kante in midfield. The tirelessFrenchman isthe transmitter that allows his manager's passionate enthusiasm to translate onto the pitch.
Lackadaisical was the perfect word to describe some of Chelsea's performances last season, the likes of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa looking forlorn figures at times (the 2-1 loss against Kante's Leicester springs to mind). But Sunday's performance was almost the antithesis of those showings, the energy and industry of the Blues proving too much for Southampton.
Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante made 4 interceptions in the first half, the same number as the entire Southampton XI. pic.twitter.com/K8nH89GoQL
The plaudits, rightly of course, went to Hazard and Costa after the win, the latter hitting a brilliant curling effort past Fraser Forster. But one moment that reflected the game perfectly- and indeed all of Chelsea's recent wins -came with the scores at 2-0 with just minutes remaining. Kante, running as if it were the first minute of the contest, closed down a Southampton defender effectively on the opponent's byline and expertly dispossessed him.
It's that sort of thing that went under the radar to an extentat Leicester last season, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez both nominated for this year's Ballon d'Or for their efforts. Kante, perhaps controversially,wasn't nominated.
He won't care though - nor will his manager -if Costa and Hazard reap the rewards of his unselfishefforts from midfield and it leads to another Premier League winners medal.
Chelsea had the talent last season, but Conte and Kante could be the duo that allow it to flourish once again.
Having encountered the reinvigorated Chelsea side,Southampton manager Claude Puel summed it up perfectly:"It is so difficult to play against."
With Conte and Kante still in the early days of their Chelsea careers, it's not likely to get any easier.