Chelsea have been heavily linked with Napoli and Senegal centreback Kalidou Koulibaly. He’s undoubtedly one of the most sought after defenders in Europe, but what makes him so desirable?
Here’s our scout report….
The Senegalese centre-half is in the prime years of his career, some may have doubts over the transfer due to his age as he would be 29-years-old by the time he made his debut for Chelsea, should the club sign him. If you’re of this mindset it is worth considering that Koulibaly is less than 3 weeks older than Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk and he’s 5 months younger than Eden Hazard – and they’re two players you wouldn’t think twice about signing.
The 6’1” defender has been noted for his robust and physical presence and uses this to his advantage, winning on average 2.3 aerial duals per game this season. Chelsea have been vulnerable from crosses so far under Frank Lampard so the stature and sturdiness of Koulibaly could help reduce the threat of balls into the box.
While Koulibaly’s main strength may be his physical ability – he has drastically improved on the ball over recent seasons. Having played a key role in Maurizio Sarri’s famous ball-playing system between 2015-2018, the Senegalese developed his passing range and confidence with the ball at his feet and this has continued since the Italian manager departed Naples. This season, Koulibaly has maintained an impressive passing accuracy of 89%, this is better than any of Chelsea’s current centrebacks with the exception of Andreas Christensen. Furthermore, since the start of the 16/17 Serie-A season (up until Koulibaly’s injury in December 2019) no defender had made more successful passes than the Napoli man.
Positonally, Koulibaly has matured into one of the finest defenders in Europe. His experience and maturity is clear to see when you watch him play. He is very rarely caught out of position and also commands his backline effectively, keeping them in position too. This was brilliantly depicted when he notoriously, and hilariously, pushed his team-mate Mario Rui into position to defend 1v1 against Kylian Mbappe during last season’s Champions League.
So, there’s no doubt that Koulibaly is an elite-level defender but he must have some weaknesses, right?…
There’s only really one potential weakness that can be noted of Koulibaly and that’s his concentration. While his positional play is very good, he sometimes seems to have lapses in focus which cause occasional rash recovery challenges – creating disciplinary issues. Despite starting just 14 league games this season for Napoli, the defender has managed to rack up 3 yellow cards and a red. His love for a tackle is definitely a positive within his game but he does, at times, seem to ‘dive-in’ which leads to bookings and ultimately suspensions. This isn’t a major flaw in his game, though, and it’s very rare to see Koulibaly actually cost his side due to a rash challenge or unnecessary booking.
Seemingly, Kalidou Koulibaly’s form has dropped in the last 18 months or so. This can be debated as to wether it’s actually true or not but it’s fair to say that Napoli’s off-field and political issues as well as the players’ personal injury problems would have made it difficult to maintain the sublime form which he demonstrated consistently between 2016 and 2018.
“Koulibaly is Europe’s best defender”Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne to Radio Kiss Kiss (2019)
Kalidou Koulibaly is reportedly valued at around €70M and his contract doesn’t expire in Naples until 2023. However, the COVID-19 situation has, of course, lead to major financial uncertainty for football clubs and that, combined with Napoli’s will to offload the player, may mean the asking price is lowered. With Harry Maguire setting back Manchester United a dizzying £85M and Virgil Van Dijk costing Liverpool upwards of £75M – Koulibaly’s reported price actually represents good value in the modern transfer market, even if Napoli do demand the full €70M.
The Senegal captain would be the perfect partner to any of Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen or Fikayo Tomori in the Chelsea backline which is in desperate need of a truly experienced, world class centre-half. Manchester United and Liverpool are also linked though, so Frank Lampard might need to get on the phone again, as he has done with Koulibaly’s Napoli teammate Dries Mertens, if he is to entice the pair to west London.
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