FC Bayern are said to have worked on a commitment of Pierre Kalulu. Accordingly, the Munich team has been inquiring with the French U20 international for the third time in the past few days. He had hesitated for a long time due to numerous offers but apparently was then convinced by Milan’s technical director Paolo Maldini.
In Lyon, where he was previously only used for the second team, Kalulu probably also wanted to be given a professional contract. The native of Lyon, however, saw no prospect in the team of Rudi Garcia due to the great competition from Léo Dubois, Rafael and Kenny Tete.
Kalulu switched to OL’s youth at the age of ten. The defensive man’s contract with the French expires in the summer, which is why Milan only has to pay a training allowance of around half a million euros.
Therefore, Kalulu is the first signing for AC Milan for next season. It is a clear sign that the traditional club from northern Italy wants to focus on young talents in near future. Also, it shows that Milan, still, is an attractive club for young players.
Role in the system at OL
The second team of Lyon is managed by Christian Bassila. Most of the time, the French coach lines his team up in a 4-4-2 formation. Here, Kalulu is used as a right full-back in the backline with lots of offensive power. However, 11% off all games, Lyon was lined up in a 3-4-1-2. In this formation, Kalulu can play as a right wing-back but also as centre-back. All in all, he already played as a left wing-back as well. That is why Kalulu is well known as a versatile player who can play every position in the backline.
Role in the system at Milan
However, AC Milan play in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 under head coach Stefano Pioli. Nevertheless, in the last Serie A games, Pioli also used a back-three in a 3-4-2-1 formation. The same formation, Kalulu is used to play in under Bassila. Another key similarity is that both head coaches have a very offensive philosophy and, therefore, want their defence to stay remarkably high on the pitch. You can see that clearly by comparing the two defensive lines in the line-up maps of both teams.
Pioli will not stay at Milan after the current season. But, the German head coach Ralf Rangnick is likely to stay on the sideline next year. If this will be the case, he will likely line up a backline with four defenders. In his former teams as head coach, the full-backs were used to play very offensively.
In the image below is an example of the typical positioning of a right-back under Rangick. The full-backs are moving high up the pitch in attack to provide width. At the same time, they are further passing options making it harder for the opponents to defend the attack. Especially the oppositional full-backs will get problems as they will have to defend against two players. That is a philosophy which will suit Kalulu´s playing style very well as you will see in this analysis.
In both formations, Lyon´s backline stands up high on the pitch. Kalulu as captain plays a particularly important role as he is staying even more offensive. Therefore, he was the playmaker in Lyon´s team as he directs the game from the deep and initiates the attacks with opening passes. Therefore, one teammate from the backline always stays a little bit behind him to cover depth. You can see this procedure in the image below very well.
With Alessio Romagnoli, Milan already have a creative centre-back who is able to build up their game. However, this type of player is always asked. Especially if the new Milan head coach wants to be in possession often, two technically gifted centre-backs are essential.
Thanks to his overview and passing ability, he finds an excellent and effective passing option in nearly every situation. Therefore, he often uses diagonal long-range passes to providing width. At the same time, he shifts the point of the attack and is able to break the opponent´s offensive, midfield and defensive line as you can see in the picture below. Milan will benefit from these balls as their forwards (e.g. Ante Rebić, Rafael Leão, Samu Castillejo) always looking for long balls from the deep in behind the defensive line to use their pace.
Even if he plays these long balls very often, Kalulu has outstanding passing statistics. In fact, he plays the sixth-most passes in National 2 (57,87 per 90 minutes). His average pass length is 19,51 meters. Nevertheless, incredible 88,52% of his passes are successful. This is a number that is similar to the statistics of Milan´s creative centre-back Romagnoli with 92.2% of his passes being accurate. But, here it is important to mention that the Italian plays only 51,77 passes per 90 minutes.
In the map below, you can take a closer look on Kalulu´s passes and the average pass length. It is quite obvious, that Kalulu prefers to play diagonal balls instead of short forward passes. Passing this way, he switches the point of the attack quickly so that the opponents will not have much time to order and the wingers have the time to control the ball before they will get pressed.
High defensive line
Considering his height of 179 cm and his weight of only 69 kg, Kalulu is not a typically centre-back. Therefore, it seems very surprising that he is playing this position quite often. But, as Lyon is standing high up the pitch, Kalulu´s extraordinary speed helps the whole team. The high defensive line often leads to a counter-attack which theoretically could lead to a conceded goal. However, thanks to Kalulu´s high speed, he is able to recover the ball very often. With Milan playing with a high defensive line as well, this will be important (especially if you take a look at Milan´s centre-backs which are not fast at all).
In the image below, you can recognize that Atalanta is in a counter-attack and their forward is running towards the goal and, normally, only have to beat the goalkeeper.
Even if this situation ends up in a goal for Atalanta, Kalulu´s pace often works out so that he can recover the ball in dangerous areas. His game intelligence and his speed are deciding lots of 1-vs.-1 duels. Instead of a tackle, Kalulu tries to force his opponents to go out wide where he can easily clear the situation. The image below provides an example of this procedure. That is why Kalulu can play as a centre-back by using these two abilities even he is not the tallest player.
In the map down below, you can see that thanks to his intelligence, Kalulu recovers the ball quite often by intercepting the opponents´ actions. All in all, he recovers the ball 11,45 times per 90 minutes. This number is very similar to the recoveries that Milan´s centre-backs Simon Kjaer (11,33 per 90 minutes) and Romagnoli (10,57 per 90 minutes) provide even if their playing styles are different. Since both, Romagnoli and Kjaer, are not fast, Kalulu could be the perfect complement for Milan´s centre-backs.
Nevertheless, the difference between National 2 and Serie A is big and Kalulu will need time to adapt his playing style as he will face more experienced and physically developed opponents in Italy´s top league.
Kalulu´s biggest strength is his pace. The young Frenchman is amazingly fast and especially as a full-back, he and the whole team benefits from this ability. With Theo Hernández Milan have a fast full-back on the left side but they definitely lack pace on the right side. So, if Kalulu will play as a right-back, his speed will be an advantage for the Milan game as Andrea Conti and Davide Calabria are not the fastest right full-backs.
In the image below, you can see Kalulu starting a progressive run near Lyon´s own penalty box. His opponent is running next to him.
Only three (!) seconds later, Kalulu is in an advanced position and receives the ball from Lyon´s offensive midfielder. Even if Kalulu had to make a curved run and his opponent made a straight one, it is outstanding how much space is between Kalulu and his opponent at this moment.
As you can see in the map below, Kalulu is producing lots of these progressive runs to advanced positions on the pitch. Milan´s current right-backs are staying back during attacks. So, Kalulu will provide a new player profile in the Milan squad as he always move up high on the pitch in possession.
From these advanced positions, Kalulu is able to deliver lots of key passes and well-timed crosses into dangerous areas near or within the opposition´s penalty box. In the image below, he contributes to Lyon´s counter-attack and plays a perfect-timed chip-ball to set up Lyon´s right-wing who is still onside.
Even if he is already within the opponent´s penalty box, Kalulu always has an eye for his teammates. Kalulu is not the best finisher and so it is even more important that he uses his overview to set up teammates who are in an even better position to score a goal like in the situation below.
The map below indicates, that Kalulu plays a huge number of ground crosses. This might get important for Milan next season since their best header, Zlatan Ibrahimović, will leave the club and with Ante Rebić and Rafael Leão, Milan have two more technically gifted forwards in their own ranks. However, Kalulu plays only 0,97 crosses per 90 minutes. In comparison: Conti provides 2,53 crosses per 90 minutes and Calabria even more (3,59 per 90 minutes). So, this is definitely an area to improve.
At the moment, Kalulu´s biggest weakness is his physicality. Down below, you can see that he only won 52,17% of his aerial duels last season. This is a statistic which is not good enough for a defender to play a big role in a top league as it is only average in the French league National 2.
As he cannot work on his height, he definitely should work on his upper body physicality focusing on power and stabilization training. If not, he will get lots of problems to defend against physically developed opponents in Serie A (especially if he will be used as a centre-back).
After working on his body weight he might get slower. His pace, which is his biggest strength at the moment, could suffer from that. That is why he will also have to work on his explosive start to make sure that he will be remaining fast.
The new Milan head coach should definitely decide where he will line up Kalulu ahead of the season and he might be happy with him as a full-back.
With Kalulu, Milan get a very versatile player with lots of pace. Definitely, it is a big step to move from National 2 to Serie A. Nevertheless, he can bring in his passing and sprint ability that will benefit Milan. Furthermore, he will be providing more depth in Milan´s current squad and could be an extremely useful back-up for every position within the backline. If he is working hard and can convince Milan´s new head coach, Kalulu could even be the first option for the right full-back position next season.