N’Golo Kante was the star of Chelsea’s success in this season’s Champions League, with the ever-popular midfielder winning Man of the Match accolades in the semi-finals and final.
Kante was outstanding as Manchester City were edged 1-0 in the final in Porto, the France international in superb form both with and without the ball, snapping into challenges and starting attacks for Chelsea with his industrious all-action style.
The 30-year-old also became the sixth central midfielder to be named as Man of the Match in a Champions League final since the turn of the century, and it’s quite the stellar list of names the Frenchman has joined.
Here is every central midfielder to be named Man of the Match in a Champions League final since 2000.
Zinedine Zidane (2002)
Real Madrid made Zinedine Zidane the most expensive player in football history when signing the Juventus midfielder as part of their Galactico regime in 2001, with the Spaniard’s record-breaking investment rewarded at the end of the midfielder’s debut season.
Real’s collection of stars advanced to the Champions League final at Hampden Park, where they were faced by a Bayer Leverkusen side who had upset the odds to reach the showpiece, eliminating both Liverpool and Manchester United.
Zidane was named as Man of the Match following the full-time whistle at Scotland’s national stadium, with his match-winning moment cemented into the competition’s history.
The game was poised at 1-1 as half-time approached after Leverkusen’s Lucio had cancelled out Raul’s opener for Real Madrid, only for the summer signing to change the complexion of the clash with one perfect swing of his left boot.
Roberto Carlos’ lofted cross dropped out of the night sky towards the edge of the penalty area, where a waiting Zidane executed a volley of technical perfection to lash home a stunning strike from distance.
It was a defining moment in the career of a generational great and a moment which made the naming of Zidane as best afield almost a formality.
Porto caused a seismic shock during the 2003/04 season as the Portuguese side were crowned champions of Europe, a talented side ruffling feathers under the guidance of a young Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho’s side were strong defensively and possessed a work-ethic that overpowered more illustrious opponents, though the star in the side was undoubtedly Deco.
Deco was brilliant during a run to the final that included a Round of 16 win over Manchester United, finishing as the Champions League’s leading assist provider and producing arguably his best showing in the final win over fellow underdogs Monaco.
Deco ran the show during a 3-0 win and scored the second goal himself, sealing a shock European triumph for Porto before leaving that summer for Barcelona.
The Portugal international won a second Champions League trophy with the Catalans in 2006, before forming part of a Chelsea side that won a domestic double under Carlo Ancelotti in 2009/10.
Steven Gerrard (2005)
Steven Gerrard – alongside each of his Liverpool teammates – was a long, long way away from team or individual accolades at half-time of the 2005 final, the Reds seemingly down and out after an embarrassing opening 45 minutes against AC Milan.
Rafael Benitez’s side were 3-0 down at the interval with Kaka having lit up the first half in Istanbul, before a second-half fightback saw Liverpool emerge as champions in miraculous fashion.
Gerrard was the architect of their thrilling comeback as Liverpool levelled within the space of just six frantic second-half minutes, netting the Premier League side’s first with a towering header, before winning the penalty from with Xabi Alonso equalised at the second attempt.
The midfielder’s showing saw him drag Liverpool – not for the first time – back into the contest, an unbelievable period of action which changed the narrative of a final the Reds’ captain had initially struggled to impact.
Gerrard defended admirably for the remaining time as Liverpool clung on before winning on penalties, sealing his place in the folklore of his boyhood side.
Barcelona became champions of Europe for a third time during the 2008/09 season, completing a historic treble-winning season under the guidance of novice coach Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola’s principles included domination of possession and in Xavi he had the perfect exponent of his philosophy, a metronomic figure at the heart of a Catalan midfield that conquered the continent.
Barcelona outclassed the reigning champions as Manchester United were defeated in Rome, Xavi at the heart of their success as he pulled the strings with an effortless ease.
The Red Devils had won three consecutive Premier League titles and were seeking to become the first team to defend the trophy in the Champions League era, but proved no match as Xavi and midfield teammate Andres Iniesta cut through their defensive lines with a spellbinding simplicity.
Xavi conducted the final from start to finish and provided the assist for Barcelona’s second goal, a brilliant delivery that was met by Lionel Messi for the rarest of headed efforts.
Andres Iniesta (2015)
Andres Iniesta was often at the hub of Barcelona’s best performances and rarely more so than the 2015 Champions League final, the midfielder orchestrating the play with the pass and move principles that saw the Spaniards conquer Europe.
Iniesta assisted the opener for Ivan Rakitic after just four minutes against Juventus, as Barcelona sealed a 3-1 win in Berlin and second continental treble.
The Spanish midfielder became the first player in history to assist a goal in three separate finals, having also achieved the feat in Barcelona’s final successes over Manchester United in 2009 and 2011.
This victory saw the Catalans win the Champions League alongside La Liga and Copa del Rey successes, as Luis Enrique’s side matched the achievement of Pep Guardiola’s history-making team from 2008/09.
Iniesta’s Man of the Match performance also saw the midfielder complete a unique hat-trick, having also been named as the best player on the pitch during the 2010 World Cup final and 2012 European Championship final.
N’Golo Kante (2021)
N’Golo Kante joined this exclusive list of players following his stand-out showing in Chelsea’s win over Manchester City, the west London side crowned European champions for a second time in Porto.
Few had expected Chelsea to reach the latter stages of the competition, but the arrival of Thomas Tuchel as head coach saw the Blues transformed into a formidable defensive outfit.
Tuchel’s change to a back three system brought a new-found sense of solidity for Chelsea, their defence protected by one of the best defensive midfielders of his generation in Kante.
The France international has collected Premier League and World Cup winners’ medals in recent seasons and has now added the Champions League to his burgeoning collection, his impact evident in the successes of both club and country.
Kante thrives in regaining and recycling possession with his indefatigable style renowned, though he’s far, far more than just a destroyer as Manchester City discovered to their cost during a performance of relentless energy and forward drive.