Melissa Reddy revealed recently that Jürgen Klopp’s two main targets to strengthen his defence this summer are Virgil Van Dijk and Kalidou Koulibaly. Seeing as I did a piece on Van Dijk, I felt it was only fair to look into Koulibaly as well. Consider him the next name on the Summer Shortlist.
With Melissa Reddy claiming that a centre back is high on the Reds priority list this summer, I decided to have a look into one of Jürgen Klopp’s reported targets – Kalidou Koulibaly.
The Senegalese man-mountain currently plies his trade at Napoli in the Calcio A and has played a huge part in the club’s successful season, sitting currently in third and just two points behind second-placed Roma.
A tall, physical, quick and confident centre-back, the 25-year-old sounds like he would be a superb addition to Liverpool’s defensive ranks should Klopp opt to snatch him up.
The perfect cocktail for a centre-half
He’s 6′4,196 pounds and absolutely rapid.
The Senegalese centre-back is the star man in Napoli’s admittedly average back line and has played a huge part this season in keeping them heavily involved in the race for a Champions League place.
Napoli currently sit in third in the Serie A on 70 points from 32 games, just two points off of second-placed Roma and nine ahead of fourth-placed Lazio.
The club have conceded 33 goals in 32 games – the third-best in the league – with Koulibaly featuring in 23 of those matches.
It is testament to the big centre back that of those 33 goals that Napoli have conceded, they have shipped 15 in the 10 games that he has missed and just 18 in the 23 in which he’s featured.
They have also not managed a single clean sheet in the Calcio A without him, managing all 10 of their shutouts with him in the XI.
With Jöel Matip being Liverpool’s number one in terms of our centre-backs at the club and Virgil Van Dijk being many fans number one target, I opted to compare some key areas of Koulibaly’s game with these two other centre-backs.
Having managed 2021 league minutes this season, Koulibaly has featured for longer than both Matip and Van Dijk thus far but has turned out for Napoli in just two more league fixtures than Van Dijk has managed for Southampton and one less than Matip has managed for Liverpool, putting them all on a fairly even pedestal when it comes to durability.
When focussing solely on defending, it’s fairly tough to separate the three defenders.
Interestingly, despite all three centre-halves being practically the same height (6’4), Van Dijk is aerially the most competent, winning a massive 75% of his aerial duels while Koulibaly’s 55% sees him come in last with Matip winning 59% of his.
The Napoli man also pales in comparison to both when it comes to clearances, with the Senegalese making exactly 100 in comparison to Matip’s 126 and Van Dijk’s 140.
Being in a less competitive league than the other two, however, may have something to do with this, with Napoli perhaps having to take a route one approach to defending less often than Liverpool and Southampton.
Impressively, however, Koulibaly is the most active tackler of the three and leads the way with 38 successful tackles to Van Dijk’s 30 and Matip’s 28.
The Senegalese is also evidently superb on the ball, boasting a 90% pass accuracy, with 1301 of his 1546 total passes played forwards, suggesting a real preference for starting attacks from the back and looking to see his team get forward as quickly as possible rather than dally on the ball at the back.
He has also managed a single league goal this season – the same total as Van Dijk and Matip – and created 4 chances for teammates from centre back, just one less than Matip and 3 less than Van Dijk.
For me, Koulibaly has all the raw materials required to become a top class centre back under Jürgen Klopp but the German will certainly have to work harder to turn him into the finished product than he would with Van Dijk.
The Senegalese has made two errors leading directly to goals this season and has a reputation for being occasionally rash in the tackle, picking up 4 yellow cards this season and committing a huge 32 fouls – triple what Matip has.
However, it’s this slight ‘nasty’ streak that could be of huge benefit to Liverpool. The Reds are often called ‘too nice’ when defending and in the past have allowed themselves to be bullied far too often by opposition forwards and midfielders, especially against physical sides like West Brom, Southampton, Hull and West Ham.
Signing Koulibaly who uses his strength and physicality to his advantage would see the Reds gain an advantage over sides who like to try and outmuscle opposition defenders while also giving them extra height with which to use when both defending and attacking set pieces.
There’s also the fact that on the ball he seems to fit the bill perfectly.
A 90% pass accuracy is never something to be sniffed at but to have a pass accuracy that high when having made over 1500 passes is genuinely incredible – especially given that 84% of his passes are made forwards rather than back to the keeper or sideways.
Jürgen Klopp personally instructs his goalkeepers and defenders to play out from the back whenever possible and likes his back four/five to be comfortable on the ball and it seems as if Koulibaly – who has an 80% take on success rate – would have no trouble at all fitting this bill.
If Liverpool miss out on Virgil Van Dijk then Koulibaly would certainly be a player I’d be happy with.
His height, pace, strength, reading of the game and tackling ability are all solid and the fact that there is evidently room for improvement would also be something that appeals to Klopp.
He wouldn’t come cheap but he’d likely not quite cost the 50 million pounds that Southampton are asking for Van Dijk’s services but could provide just as much value for less money but we saw last summer when Chelsea attempted to secure his signature that Napoli can be tough to deal with, perhaps making him a less likely proposition than the Dutchman.
Personally, I say sign him up if we can.
Suitability: 8/10 – Likelihood: 7/10
(Stats courtesy of Squawka and Whoscored.com and are accurate as of Tuesday, April 18th).