When the season ends and the transfer market reopens, Chelsea have some work to do. While the current squad is far from a disaster, weaknesses have been exposed throughout the campaign, and there is a need for new reinforcements.
Perhaps no position needs more of an improvement than centre-back. The Blues had four strong options going into the 2019/20 season, but the stats have shown that the defensive standard at Stamford Bridge hasn’t been good enough.
Chelsea have the 12th worst defence in the Premier League with 39 goals conceded – more than the next three teams below them in the table. In all competitions, just nine clean sheets have been kept in 42 games, an astonishingly low rate of 21.4%.
On top of the alarming numbers, Frank Lampard hasn’t found his first-choice partnership. In the league alone, he has experimented with nine different backlines, including four variations of a back three that was supposedly the answer.
What that proves, is that Lampard simply doesn’t have or know his best centre-back duo.
Seven months of experimenting suggests that Chelsea need someone new in defence, someone to partner up with one of the current centre-back quartet and bring the Blues’ defence to the next title-challenging level.
That’s where Kalidou Koulibaly comes in.
The Napoli defender has been linked to Chelsea for months, always recommended as a strong investment for the Blues. However, his purchase won’t be uncontested, with Liverpool, Manchester United and Real Madrid also in the race to sign the 28-year-old.
The challenge is tough, but it exists for a reason. Koulibaly is one of Europe’s top defenders, playing an integral part in a Napoli side that has consistently been one of the best defences in Italy for years.
Since arriving at the Partenopei from Genk in 2014, Koulibaly has made 233 appearances, winning the Supercoppa Italiana after five months. He’s been named in the Serie A Team of the Year for four consecutive seasons, and was named the league’s best defender last year.
He especially impressed under former manager Maurizio Sarri, who would’ve been welcomed to bring Koulibaly with him from Naples in his one-year stint as Chelsea manager. But if Lampard can convince the Senegalese to switch the San Paolo for Stamford Bridge, he could truly revolutionise his defence.
Koulibaly is a proven player in one of Europe’s best leagues, and while Serie A and the Premier League have their differences, he would perfectly adapt to the English game. His strong physique and power on the ball make him a nightmare to play against, with his strength and physicality proving unstoppable in Italy.
His playing traits and strengths are the perfect match for the Premier League, which is renowned for its fast pace and fundamental need for physicality. Koulibaly has the characteristics – now he needs the league to match it.
One critique of signing Koulibaly is his age, with the Senegalese turning 29 in June. The average age of Chelsea’s centre-back quartet is 24.5, but that proves why he would be beneficial. The Blues need an older, more mature defender at the back, and with Koulibaly entering what could be his prime years, he is in fact at the perfect age.
On top of his age and traits, comparing Koulibaly’s stats to Chelsea’s four current centre-backs in their respective leagues gives for some pretty reading. When ranking all five defenders, Koulibaly’s passing accuracy (89%) is the second best, while he has completed the most tackles and most key passes per game.
|Passing accuracy||Tackles per game||Total duels won||Key passes|
There’s no doubt that Koulibaly would be an incredible signing for Chelsea, but the question is: who would he play alongside in defence?
The truth is not one player truly stands out, though the above stats show that Andreas Christensen is the best option. A Twitter poll on my account proved the same outcome, with (at the time of writing) 38.3% choosing the Dane as Koulibaly’s theoretical centre-back partner.
It is important to note that Christensen doesn’t have a clear majority, with just 8.7% fewer people opting for Englishman Fikayo Tomori instead. While it is unclear which centre-back would keep their spot in the starting eleven, what is clear is the positive impact Koulibaly would have at Stamford Bridge.
Koulibaly is the centre-back Chelsea have been lacking since the departure of John Terry: a tough, hard hitting defender who strikes fear into the eyes of strikers. That’s what the club have been lacking these last three years, missing out on a rock-solid centre-half that can effectively succeed Terry.
The stats don’t lie, and nor do Koulibaly’s performances and achievements on the pitch. The race for the Senegalese will be a marathon not a sprint, but if Lampard can come out on top and win that golden prize, it will be one of his finest signings for years to come.
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