Kalidou Koulibaly has been an integral part of Napoli for a few seasons now but it’s no secret that Napoli is willing to sell him for the right price. As quoted by Napoli’s president: “Koulibaly can leave the club, yes. If some club will make an important bid, we will let him go on this summer.” The Naples-based team is ready to move on from their star defender. He has been heavily linked to Manchester City but the hefty price-tag set by the President has made the matter difficult.
For this data analysis, we have taken only central defenders who are in Europe’s top five leagues and played more than 1300 minutes in the 2019/20 season.
Koulibaly is someone who many will call “Pep’s player”. He is an excellent passer of the ball and posses exquisite passing statistics. He has a passing accuracy of 92.37% and ranks sixth among all the central defenders in the top five leagues for forward passes per 90 (27.62). The Senegalese averaged 10.24 final third passes per 90 and is eighth in accurate progressive passes percentage with 83.64%. It might come as a shock to many, Koulibaly has declined defensively last year and his stats are nowhere near the best. He has an aerial duel won percentage of only 59.09% and is ranked 135th in Europe. He averages 4.09 interceptions per 90, i.e, 246th in Europe. With Koulibaly now 29, in final years of his contract, and declining defensively, the president’s stubbornness on reducing his price tag might cost them dearly.
Europe’s top five leagues have a positive influx of quality defenders and are spoilt for choices. Koulibaly plays on the left side of the defence and usually initiates attack from the back. Not many are as good as him when it comes to passing. To replace him, Gattuso needs a defender with similar passing qualities.
David Alaba of Bayern Munich, who has played most of the season at centre-back, with 30.35 made the most forward passes.
Following him is Jonathan Tah of Leverkusen, who averages 30.31 forward passes per 90. Presnal Kimpembe also had an impressive season where he averaged 25.94 forward passes per 90 and had a passing accuracy of 95.51%.
Clement Lenglet of FC Barcelona made 26.25 forward passes per 90 and has a passing accuracy of 93.8%. Alessio Romagnoli of AC Milan and Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Nico Elvedi had an accuracy of 93.37% and 94.09% respectively. Dortmund’s Manuel Akanji is 11th in forward passes made per 90 with 26.07.
Alaba is almost an outlier as he tops both the progressive passes and final third passes per 90 with 14.32 and 14.77 respectively. But that is due to Bayern’s playing style as even Boateng finds himself quite high up the list as well.
Tah made 12.67 progressive and 8.39 forward passes per 90 and ranks high up on the list. Dayot Upamecano had 10.12 final third and 11.95 progressive passes per 90.
Matthias Ginter again posed good passing stats and averaged 12.67 progressive passes per 90 and is seventh on the list. Kimpempbe has the second-best final third passes accuracy with 86.7%.
Defenders like Koulibaly who are good on-ball and dominate the game usually pose weak defensive stats. He averaged 3.8 successful pressure per 90.
Jose Palomino is such an outlier in this and tops both tackles plus interceptions and successful pressures per 90. The 20-year old defensive talent Marash Kumbulla has performed tremendously and averaged 4.88 tackles plus interceptions and 5.67 successful pressures per 90.
Elvedi had 4.16 tackles plus interceptions and 3.95 successful pressures per 90. Tah on the other had 3.53 successful pressures per 90.
It is interesting to observe that Gleison Bremer of Torino did exceptionally well and had the most tackles plus interceptions among everyone with 5.71. He has made 5.32 successful pressures per 90.
Any central defender needs to be good aerially to battle the strikers. Shockingly even though Koulibaly is 6’3″, he is terrible aerial statistics. The 29-year-old won only 59.09% aerial duels and 3.93 per 90. Gattuso would want a defender who is aerially dominating and make sure they don’t concede easy goals.
Neven Subotić has the best aerial duels won percentage with 78.02%, and Kortney Hause of Aston Villa wins 7.7 per 90, which is the most.
Tah wins 4.6 aerial duels per 90 with an accuracy of 70.8%. Wesley Fofana has an accuracy of 74.80% and wins 6.42 duels per 90. Kurt Zouma, who was criticized much of the last season is excellent aerially and has won 74.26% of his duels.
This is a characteristic where both Alaba and Ginter are very weak and won only 43.14% and 54.43% aerial duels.
After the above data analysis, we observe that since Koulibaly is a ball-playing centre-back, Napoli needs someone comfortable on the ball and can start attacks from the back. With Napoli not playing the UCL next year, it will not be easy for them to target the best of the defenders, so we have shortlisted more logical and realistic options.
Ginter of Borussia M’gladbach is a much more likely replacement. He is comfortable on the ball ninth-best in forward passes per 90 with 26.31. He completed 12.61 progressive passes per 90. His defensive stats are slightly better than Koulibaly’s. The 26-year-old makes 6.72 PAdj interceptions per 90, wins 69.67% of his defensive and 61.54% of aerial duels. The German has a market value of 28M euros according to the transfermarkt. He will not cost the Naples-based team much and would perfectly slot into their side.
Borrusia Dortmund’s Akanji is a little cheaper option than Ginter but offers almost the same as him. He averaged 26.07 forward passes per 90 and has a passing accuracy of 91.78%. The Swiss made 10.6 progressive passes per 90. His defensive duels won percentages is 70.8, i.e, better than Koulibaly’s 68.28. His market value is 20M only and Napoli fails to sell Koulibaly, he could be bought as his understudy when he eventually leaves.
The perfect replacement for Koulibaly in our opinion is Tah of Bayer Leverkusen. The 24-year-old had an incredible last season and is good both defensively and on the ball. The German posted the best numbers after Alaba with 30.31 forward passes and 80.59 passes per 90. With 12.75 progressive passes per 90, he is ahead of Koulibaly in this. He is defensively stern and had 8.93 possession adjusted interceptions. He also brings a strong aerials presence and won 70.8% of his aerial duels. At a market value of 24M Euros, the 24-year-old will be an absolute bargain for Napoli
Napoli’s president’s decision not to sell Koulibaly for anything less than 130M has come back to hit him as he looks to offload the Senagalese. But when Guardiola really wants a player he usually gets it and Koulibaly is one of the best defenders in the recent years who is hoping to perform at the same level. Young defenders like Tah, Akanji and Ginter are great replacements for him at Napoli.