The longest will they, won’t they relationship appears to be close to its conclusion.
Kalidou Koulibaly might finally become a Chelsea player this summer after over six years of speculation linking the Napoli defender with a move to Stamford Bridge.
On Tuesday afternoon, reports emerged that Todd Boehly had moved fast for the 31-year-old defender with only one year left on his current deal with the Serie A club.
There are concerns over the length of a lucrative contract for a player entering his thirties.
The club had been linked with younger targets like Matthijs de Ligt, who logically could have offered more longevity, but there is little doubt around Koulibaly’s consistent excellence in Italy to make him one of Europe’s highly regarded defenders.
Thomas Tuchel not only needed to fill the vacuum left by the departing Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, who could be joined by Cesar Azpilicueta at Barcelona, with new options.
Also the seniority and vocal leadership lost in the dressing room by their exits.
The intangible elements of this transfer make this deal as appealing to Chelsea as the obvious technical attributes.
Should the Blues keep hold of the talented Levi Colwill whilst continuing to integrate Trevoh Chalobah, Chelsea could have a great succession plan in their defence in the coming seasons.
Getting into Koulibaly and what he could bring to Tuchel, one of the parts that stood out was his passing range, yes that may feel less relevant to a defender, but when you frame it with the context of Chelsea being a possession-heavy team and one that uses its back-three to progress the ball, this is important.
Tuchel needs his back-three, mainly Thiago Silva and Rudiger last season, to switch play to the wing-backs or move the ball up the pitch in order to beat the press of opposition or start to break down deep defences.
Koulibaly played under Maurizio Sarri between 2015 and 2018, impressing him so much that Sarri wanted Chelsea to bring the Senegal international with him to the club when he became head coach in west London.
With Raheem Sterling joining with his potential runs behind defences this season, along with both Ben Chilwell and Reece James hopefully fit and firing, Koulibaly finding both from a deep position could prove highly influential.
In a detailed piece for The Players Tribune back in 2019, Koulibaly referenced how early meetings with Rafael Benitez, the Napoli boss when he moved from Genk in 2014, started to give him a better appreciation for the tactical side of the game.
You can see that growth in the way he reads different situations and is consistently a clean tackler of the ball, even in situations when it looks like the odds are against him to sweep up danger effectively.
He appears more aggressive in wider defensive positions, again staying close to the attacker before calculating the right moment to dive in and win the ball.
His ability to sweep up the danger and recover well might become more vital if Tuchel opts to take more risks in attack and shift Chelsea to a four-man defence.
In reference to playing in a four-man defence, Koulibaly is not exclusively restrained to the left-sided role some might assume he would fill alongside Silva.
For Senegal, Abdou Diallo has partnered the Napoli man from the left in front of Edouard Mendy, the back-two that helped their nation win AFCON back in February and qualify for the World Cup in Qatar at the end of this year.
Koulibaly can hopefully add the experience Chelsea needs, repeating the success of Silva whilst offering Tuchel the chance to change formation and keep the Blues competitive in the biggest games.
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