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How Kalidou Koulibaly's reported Manchester City arrival could affect Liverpool next season

Manchester City recently found out the hard way that winning the Champions League is by no means an easy feat.

Pep Guardiola and his team crashed out at the quarter-final stage of the competition for a third consecutive season following their 3-1 defeat to Lyon on Saturday.

It’s back to the drawing board for the Premier League runners-up who will be looking at new ways of closing the gap on champions Liverpool next season as well as making a more significant push in Europe’s biggest cup competition.

According to a recent report from Italy, City are already a step ahead of the game and are ‘close’ to reaching an agreement to land their priority summer target Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli.

The Il Mattino report (via SportWitness) claims the Citizens are prepared to raise their offer which reportedly started at €70m (£63m) and that City are likely to beat Manchester rivals United to the signature of the Senegalese ace.

Kalidou Koulibaly of SSC Napoli in action during the Serie A match between AC Milan and SSC Napoli at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on November 23, 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Giuseppe Cottini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Reduces the gulf in quality

Koulibaly’s reported addition at City will undoubtedly strengthen Liverpool’s greatest challengers for the title next season as the defence has been an underlying weakness of Guardiola’s team for some time now.

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The 29-year-old powerhouse is arguably the best central defensive option on the market right now and similarly to Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool could be the transformative figure City require to void an 18-point gulf that currently exists between the two sides.

Van Dijk’s development reached an entirely new trajectory following his arrival on Merseyside in 2018 and similarly to Koulibaly, the Dutchman arrived in the peak years of his career.

Liverpool’s Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk celebrates after scoring a goal during the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James’ Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, north east England on July 26, 2020. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo by LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

How does he compare to the best?

According to WhoScored, Koulibaly last season averaged 2.0 tackles per game (PG) throughout 24 Serie A appearances.

In the Champions League, the former Genk colossus boasts a similar run of consistency with a tackles PG average of 2.0 as well as an interceptions rate of 1.7 PG.

When functioning on a similar playing field, Van Dijk in Europe averaged 1.1 tackles PG while his interception rate was the same figure.

Van Dijk’s drop-off in defensive statistics are largely due to Liverpool’s ability to retain possession better than Napoli which means the Reds defence is forced into action far less than Napoli’s defensive unit.

This would explain why Van Dijk boasts a far superior ability on the ball to Koulibaly which is an aspect of the latter’s game that will need to be honed if he is to excel at City.

Van Dijk averages a rate of 85.6 passes PG throughout 38 Premier League matches while Koulibaly falls behind considerably following a 67.4 passing rate.

Koulibaly does, however, come out on top in terms of pass success to Van Dijk with the Napoli boasting an average rate of 91.4% to Van Dijk’s 89.1%.

This showcases that Koulibaly has the ideal blend of defensive steel and the ability to utilise the ball in possession effectively.

The scary aspect of this potential transfer is that in a team that dominates the ball so efficiently as City, this is only going to improve Koulibaly further.

However, it is worth noting that Koulibaly missed 14 Serie A matches last season which raises some concerns regarding his durability as compared to Van Dijk – who hasn’t missed a PL game in two seasons – there is a huge gulf in class.

Koulibaly’s reported imminent arrival will undoubtedly strengthen City next season and should set up for a much more contested title race next season.

Liverpool struck gold with Van Dijk and his influence since his arrival has been unquantifiable. City will be hoping for a similar effect yet only time will tell as to how significant Koulibaly’s impact could be.

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