Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Koulibaly Signing First Step to Rebuilding Chelsea Defense

The rebuilding of the Chelsea defense has begun. Only Manchester City and Liverpool conceded fewer goals than Manager Thomas Tuchel’s impressive defensive last season. The back line was seriously depleted, however, by the defections of center backs Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christiansen. Rudiger has moved on to Real Madrid while Christiansen has joined La Liga rival Barcelona. Rudiger is one of the best center backs in the world, possessing impressive ball skills and a nose for the occasional goal in addition to his defensive tenacity. Chelsea has moved to replace Rudiger with another international class player with the signing of Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.

The Senegalese teammate of Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has long been a rumored target for the Blues dating to former manager Antonio Conte’s time at Stamford Bridge. Six years after Chelsea’s initial interest, Koulibaly represents a finished product who benefitted at Napoli from the tutelage of other one-time Chelsea coaches Rafa Benitez and Maurizio Sarri. Like Rudiger, Koulibaly is comfortable going forward and possesses excellent tactical acumen, reading the game well from his center back position. Concerns regarding his game would involve adaptation to the more physical Premier League style of play and Koulibaly’s ability to win aerial duels in the bruising English league. The 31-year-old Koulibaly, however, is an international class plyer representing Chelsea’s best option to provide an immediate fix to the vacancy created by Rudiger.

The Blues are now pursuing additional reinforcements to their defense. A deal for Manchester City center back, and former Chelsea youth player, Nathan Ake collapsed which led to reported talks with PSG regarding French international Presnel Kimpembe. Kimpembe is another center back comfortable with the ball at his feet but has a reputation for the occasional lapse in focus. Chelsea may have greater interest in the services of Sevilla’s Jules Kounde. The 23-year-old Kounde represents a longer-term investment who would pair nicely with the more experienced Koulibaly. Unfortunately, Barcelona is in the hunt for Kounde, and the Catalans have proven to be a brutal competitor in this transfer window despite operating under a cloud of financial concerns. Those concerns have been swept aside as Barcelona has beaten Chelsea to the signature of Leeds winger Raphinha and the La Liga club has now announced the addition of Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski. The German club, meanwhile, appears ready to sign Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus. De Ligt was yet another defender linked to Chelsea but overtures from the London club were rebuffed.

Chelsea could look at internal options to complement Koulibaly. Ethan Ampadu is currently touring with the club in the United States after loan spells with Sheffield United and Venezia. Trevoh Chalobah is another young center back who impressed in spot appearances for Chelsea last  season. Ampadu is 21 years old and Chalobah is 23. 19-year-old Levi Colwill is an even younger center back prospect who is more likely to head out on loan to a club like Everton or Crystal Palace. Meanwhile, Manager Thomas Tuchel could face additional decisions regarding his defense if captain Cesar Azpilicueta joins the growing list of Barcelona bound transfers. Both Azpilicueta and Chelsea wingback Marcos Alonso are rumored to be bound for Spain. Azpilicueta’s transfer is the more active rumor with a reported commitment having been made by former Chelsea ownership to allow the long-term club servant on. The signing of proven veteran Koulibaly was critical for Chelsea as Manager Thomas Tuchel increasingly resembles the Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke as he attempts to piece together another top four defense. 

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