One would think the rumour mills would take a break from their production of possible transfers due to the current situation around the world and the suspension of games; however, that is not the case. Instead, rumours have started generating, which may or may not be true to fulfil a quota of clicks per day. And with Chelsea being tipped to invest heavily in what is Frank Lampard’s first summer window, we are the first club to be linked to a player tipped to leave is the Pride of London. The latest name on this ever-growing list is Napoli vice-captain Kalidou Koulibaly. The 28 year-old Senegalese is widely regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the world, but hasn’t been up to his usual lofty standards this season. In fact, the entire Napoli team has been going through a rough patch, as they currently sit sixth in the table after back to back second place finishes.
With a major rebuild required for Napoli to start competing again, sale of top stars could free up funds to invest in other areas. Having recently acquired the likes of Kostas Manolas from Roma, the Naples-based club could finally be willing to part ways with Koulibaly. While he has been linked with a move away on several occasions, it could finally materialise if Aurelio De Laurentiis permits the defender to leave the club. However, he won’t come cheap; he is regarded as one of the best in the world, along with valuable experience at the top level adds a huge chunk to his total value. A face-off for the second time in as many years between two shrewd negotiators in the form of De Laurentiis and Marina Granovskaia could see a deal being struck. However, it seems unlikely at the moment following the uncertain financial situation of the club on the other side of the pandemic.
That being said, if we somehow do pull this transfer off, it would absolutely revolutionise our defence. Koulibaly ticks all the boxes which we have been lacking at the back this season- experience, leadership and consistency. This transfer could have a Van Dijk-esque effect on our club and could propel us from top four competitors to nearly at the level of Manchester City and Liverpool. However, how does Koulibaly compare to our current options? Let’s find out. In what has been an injury-ridden season for him, we will be using per 90 stats. (source: WhoScored)
The first stat of tackles per game is dominated by the Napoli man. While he averages 2.6 tackles per game, Christensen ranks second with 2.1, with Zouma and Rudiger averaging 1 and 1.2 tackles per game, respectively. Zouma leads in the interceptions per game aspect, though, making 1.9 per game, followed by Christensen at 1.3 and Koulibaly with 1.1. Rudiger ranks last with 0.7 interceptions per game. The Senegalese defender concedes the most fouls among the four in comparison though, with 1.5 per game. This could quantify his aggressive and rash attitude. The most surprising statistic, however, is dribbled past per game. While all three of our defenders rank evenly at 0.3, the Napoli centre-back gets dribbled past 0.7 times per game. This is an odd figure considering Koulibaly’s authoritative, no-nonsense personality. Although seemingly insignificant, this attribute could be exploited by wingers who possess explosive pace and tricky feet. It has been in the same range in the past two seasons as well at 0.5 and 0.6, respectively. Despite this, he leads the way in blocks made per game, signifying his willingness to put his body on the line.
Moving on to the passing attributes, he completes the second least passes among the four in the comparison matrix, surprisingly only behind Andreas Christensen. Rudiger leads this by making 69.8 passes per game, followed closely by Kurt Zouma with 69. Koulibaly completes 64.7 passes per game, while Christensen ranks last with 57. However, when it comes to the pass accuracy percentage, the roles are completely reversed. Christensen leads the way with 90.1%, Koulibaly ranks close second with 89.3%, followed by Zouma with 87.3% and Rudiger with 85.6%. The Napoli defender leads the way by an absolute mile in key passes per game, with 0.6, with all our current options averaging 0.2 (except Zouma, with 0). Christensen and Koulibaly have not been dispossessed from open play this season, while Zouma and Rudiger lose the ball 0.2 times per game. However, Koulibaly ranks second in poor touches per game with 0.4, and could be exploited in the ruthless English league (for comparison: Zouma 0.5, Christensen and Rudiger 0.2).
Hence, while the stats might seem fairly even on paper, the real gap lies in the intangible aspects such as leadership, experience and consistency that I mentioned before. To highlight this point, one can consider the Zouma-Christensen partnership. On paper, they are by far our best defenders, but every time they start together our defence has been catastrophic to say the least. For that reason Rudiger has to be thrown into the mix due to his (however minimal) experience and leadership capability. With Kepa not the most vocal goalkeeper, there has been a clear lack of leadership at the back this season, which has exposed us defensively. The signing of Koulibaly could neutralise this problem and give our backline a different outlook altogether.
In conclusion, the signing of Koulibaly would be a smart move by the club. However, the fees involved would be exorbitant, and I personally cannot see this transfer going through. To add to this, Lampard seems to be in the market for a left-footed centre back, with Koulibaly preferring to use his right foot. Other cheaper alternatives include academy graduate Nathan Ake and Lille’s Gabriel Magalhaes. Despite costing lesser and being younger, it would be interesting to see if they could command the backline like Koulibaly does. Therefore, if offered the chance, Chelsea should splash the cash on the Senegalese defender.
Edited by: Dan