17 Jul 2022 | 08:50
The most important summer in Chelsea’s recent history is finally taking shape.
Raheem Sterling is in the US after joining the team, and now a surprise move for 31-year-old Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly has been completed.
Together, the high-priced signings reveal the ambitions of the new Todd Boehly era and suggest a significant departure from the old ways, with Thomas Tuchel expected to be heavily involved in the process. recruit.
Whatever the outcome of the 2022/23 season, no one can say that the new owners are not in favor of the manager and no one can say that Tuchel has failed or failed in his own way.
Fortunately for Chelsea supporters, their signing looks set to solve longstanding problems.
In every game during Tuchel’s tenure so far, one can see him swinging his arms forward, shouting for his players to play with more urgency and frankness. He wants split passes, aggressive in every ball and tactical variety that confuses opponents.
He clearly gets that from Sterling, a direct dribbler whose ability to penetrate possession and constant desire to do the job has marked him out of Chelsea’s current striker options.
The likes of Kai Havertz and Mason Mount worked between the lines, creating mischief watching Romelu Lukaku struggle and Tuchel frequently cursing his team’s attacking structure.
But what may surprise Chelsea fans is that Koulibaly represents an important upgrade in this respect.
He is a defensive powerhouse, a player of tremendous power and speed who almost always wins individual matches (more on that later), but of special significance. for the Tuchel project was his ability to hold the ball.
In many ways, he is a direct replacement for Antonio Rudiger, although Koulibaly tends to hold the ball himself while Rudiger passes the ball.
The Napoli captain has been in 98th place for dribbling (0.74 per game) between defenders in the ‘Big Five’ leagues over the past 365 days, according to FBRefwhile Rudiger is 51st (0.19 per game).
In contrast, Rudiger is 95th in progressive passes (4.85 per game) and Koulibaly is 77th (3.35 per game).
Capable of starting at right-back instead of playing in the center of the pitch like Rudiger did, Koulibaly’s trade-off in dribbling for progressive passing is not a bad thing; He is generally expected to move forward to become an auxiliary right-back when Reece James enters a semi-closed position, and he should be able to deal some damage from here.
Koulibaly also amassed three goals and three assists in the league last season, making him more productive than Timo Werner, while his excellent ball-keeping qualities – are likely to improve in the end. matches international teammate Edouard Mendy – also fits Tuchel’s approach.
And so the 31-year-old looks very fit even before considering his defensive attributes, which is what makes him such a sought-after centre-back throughout the years.
The best place to start is Koulibaly’s unusual tackle stats.
He is at 87 percent for tackles (2.37 per game), making him a more prominent tackler than any member of the current Chelsea squad, reflecting his aggressiveness and his remarkable initiative against an attacking player.
Again, this is exactly what Tuchel asks for but often doesn’t get: a player with angry energy who wants to get the ball and puncture the lines at every opportunity.
With Koulibaly on the team, Chelsea’s tendency to shrink a bit in tough games and switch to side possession is diminished, replaced by action and – with lots of tackles at the back – playability. Vertically increases during the transition.
In other words, Tuchel will be closer to his desire to play the German style: tackle and rush forward before the opponent has time to recalibrate, using speed and dribbling to advance into the final third. together.
Koulibaly is also very good in the air, at either end of the pitch, and has the speed to make solid tackles as well as move sideways and cover the gaps that can appear behind tall full-backs. of Chelsea.
In short, Koulibaly is a figure much loved by Napoli supporters and players, known for his charity work and involvement in the local community.
There are few Chelsea fans who don’t like the deal, even if at 31 he’s perhaps a bit pricey – but here too, there’s optimism: the new Chelsea owners are willing to accept it. a ‘win now’ attitude to transfer the decision.
It is likely that the disruption of a winter World Cup, coupled with major changes to the forward lines of both Manchester City and Liverpool, will reduce the next Premier League champions’ total points to the end of the years. 80 again.
If that happens, Chelsea will have just a few major signings left to give us the triple battle we’ve been hoping for in 2021/22. Sterling, Ake or Kounde, and above all Koulibaly would be an excellent start.