Chelsea have shown their hand in the transfer market, as they try to add players in their prime to Thomas Tuchel’s squad. Raheem Sterling was the first and he has been followed by Kalidou Koulibaly. The Senegalese international has been linked with a Premier League move for years and he has now finally joined an English team.
Todd Boehly would have known that defensive reinforcements were the most pressing item on Chelsea’s transfer agenda when he bought the club. Koulibaly provides a quality option to the defensive ranks and he should be the main replacement for Antonio Rudiger, as the former Napoli man prefers playing on the left-side.
It will be interesting to see if more defenders follow him to Stamford Bridge, with links to Nathan Ake, Jules Kounde and Presnel Kimpembe. Further to the possible names to arrive, Chelsea are also at a crossroads in terms of formation. Tuchel has preferred a back three since his arrival, but there could be scope to change that ahead of the 2022/23 season.
At the age of 31, Koulibaly should be entering his peak years as a defender. He should have the ability to read the game well and position himself well, due to his experience. Meanwhile, his physicality wouldn’t have regressed yet. Ideally, he may have wanted to make the move to England a couple of years earlier, but he should be able to quickly adapt.
Koulibaly is a dominant presence at the back, standing at over 6’4″ and he is very well built. The physicality of the Premier League won’t cause him a lot of issues, due to his frame.
However, his aerial duel stats from the last year are a little concerning. Koulibaly averages 1.93 successful aerial duels per ninety minutes with a success rate of 58.6%. These rank in the 20th and 29th percentiles among defenders. Considering his size, it is a surprise that he ranks so lowly for these metrics. The success rate will be a bigger concern than the frequency of successful aerial duels.
One of Koulibaly’s biggest strengths is his comfort in possession. Napoli have been a strong team in Italy and they do tend to dominate the ball in the majority of matches. The 31-year-old averages 61.65 passes per ninety minutes at a success rate of 87.6%. He should transition seamlessly into a dominant Chelsea team.
As he has been used to playing in a team that dominates the ball, it shouldn’t be surprising that Koulibaly is able to launch attacks from deep. He averages 3.35 progressive passes and 3.88 passes into the final third per ninety minutes. These place him in the 77th and 80th percentiles respectively.
Antonio Rudiger was an important player for Chelsea, as he could play forward passes into midfield to launch attacks. The German also liked to carry the ball into midfield. Koulibaly averages 46.38 carries per ninety minutes, placing him in the 75 percentile among defenders.
Although Koulibaly is older than 30, he should have the passing and carrying abilities that Rudiger brought to the Chelsea defence.
Defensively, Koulibaly has been one of the best in Serie A. He is an aggressive defender, who likes to tackle. This is shown by his average of 1.66 tackles per ninety minutes. The Senegal defender ranks in the 96th percentile for this metric.
It is a statement of intent signing for Chelsea. Despite never playing in the Premier League, Koulibaly is one of the best defenders in Europe and he is as close to a guarantee as you can get for the position. It is another piece of business that suggests the Blues want to compete for major honours sooner rather than later.