Kalidou Koulibaly is a giant of a man who has all the traits needed at Old Trafford right now.
Last season, before the signing of Virgil van Dijk in January, Liverpool were a scintillating attacking force with an open backdoor. They had a wealth of attacking talent in their ranks, men who instilled fear in the hearts of the opposition and banged in goals for fun, however, their defense was in dire straits. Liverpool rarely failed to score, but they almost always conceded goals.
Jurgen Klopp understood the problem and made two changes to his team. He paid big money for the Dutchman in January and also brought in Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson in the summer and Liverpool have not looked back.
Manchester United under Solskjaer have been frighteningly good in attack in recent times, but as exposed by Tottenham, desperately need reinforcement in the defense. The biggest advantage for United is that they already have the best goalkeeper in the world in their ranks, so just a little solidity, a little strength in the backline could give United the big push they now need.
As Solskjaer has shown, goalscoring has never been a problem at United. It is clear that they need a leader in defense, a strongman, a fighter who can bark orders and also keep his men compact at the back.
And this is where a certain Senegalese International comes to the mind. Kalidou Koulibaly is a giant of a man who has all the traits needed at Old Trafford right now and here are the five reasons why his transfer to United could have the same impact as van Dijk’s transfer had a year ago at Liverpool.
#5 Defensive abilities
The Senegalese’s main strength, just like van Dijk, is his defensive abilities. At 195 centimeters tall, Koulibaly doesn’t allow much to go past him. He is strong in his tackles as well as dominating in the air. This season, he is averaging two tackles and almost four clearances per game. As such, his physical attributes will be the ideal partner to Lindelof’s silkiness.
The Swede has been dying for a strong, powerful defensive partner and with Koulibay at his side, Lindelof is bound to improve as well. The Senegalese rarely lets high profile attackers intimidate him and he is well aware of the physical aspects of the game. As such, adapting to the rigors of the Premier League might not be a problem for him.
However, Koulibaly’s greatest asset is that he is an immaculate defender, who shall immediately calm the nerves at the heart of the United defense and allow Solskjaer to play fast, attacking football.
The job of a defender in an attacking unit like Manchester United is pretty tough. For once, defenders are expected to be the first line of attack and they have to venture forward to increase the numbers in the midfield as well as create an option to keep the ball moving. Unfortunately, this opens up a lot of space in the back, which the defenders have to cover up very fast during an opposition counter attack.
At Manchester United, this covering up has been an issue and it has been holding Solskjaer’s midfielders back. Like van Dijk at Liverpool, Koulibaly is lightning fast on the field and can cover up the ground in an instant. His speed is an asset for a man who is so tall, but it provides a wonderful fail-safe for the attackers in his team.
Koulibaly can match speed with almost all attackers around him and his understanding of the game is superb, which allows him to be strong while dealing with opposition counter. The Senegalese also uses his speed to great effect when he is the last man defending and that makes him a great asset.
As such, with Koulibaly in the team, Manchester United can go forward with the confidence that he has their back during the opposition counter.
This is a criterion where the Senegalese is even better than the Dutchman. Koulibaly has missed just 12 games due to injury in his entire career! That is just 12 games in over eight seasons!
Even though it sounds unbelievable, the Senegalese has played over 300 games in his career so far and has largely remained injury free. Considering how susceptible to injury the Manchester United back four has been in recent years, Koulibaly looks like an immediate upgrade in this regard as well.
The Senegalese’s first major injury was a Metatarsal Fracture endured during his days as an FC Metz player. He was sidelined for 44 days, a span where he missed seven games between April and May. That was in the 2011/12 season!
Koulibaly has been injured twice while playing for Napoli. In the 2014/15 season, he was out for a week with a knock and missed two games. In the 2016/17 season, he sustained a sideband strain in the knee and was sidelined for 15 days, where he missed three games.
As such, with his ability to stay fit, the Senegalese could be the perfect man to solve United’s defensive woes.
#2 Ball Playing Abilities
Just like the Dutchman, Koulibaly is excellent on the ball. The Senegalese is averaging approximately 75 passes per game this season, with 88% passing completion, which are both fantastic for a defender. Even though people might be tempted to think that most of those could be square passes, the reality is entirely different.
The Senegalese already has two assists to his name this season. He is also averaging almost 4.5 long balls this season, which means that he likes to play those forward passes and has also attempted through balls in games so far.
As Solskjaer prefers a proactive style of play, having two ball playing defenders is an added bonus. Lindelof has already shown his qualities on the ball and with Koulibaly in the team, Manchester United will have another source of passes from the back.
The Senegalese excelled last season in Maurizio Sarri’s system, highlighting his abilities on the ball. Koulibaly and Lindelof, as such, have the making of a fantastic technical partnership at Old Trafford.
#1 Leadership skills
Manchester United do not have a leader in the back. They immensely miss a player of the caliber of Virgil van Dijk, who can arrange his defense and push his men forward to thwart the opposition pressure. They need someone to bark orders, someone with just the right amount of aggression and steel to lead the team when in distress and it is hard to look at anyone other than Kalidou Koulibaly in this regard at present.
The Senegalese is the defensive stalwart at Napoli and hardly lets anything distract him. His confidence and his abilities make him a natural leader on the pitch and Koulibaly has been regularly seen addressing his defense and roughing his men up when they are slow to react.
He has the ability to push his men, to inspire them and direct them from the back. Even under intense opposition pressure, Koulibaly has a very cool head on his shoulders. In addition, he has a fantastic understanding of the game and his mental steel is exactly what United need right now.
If the Senegalese joins United, the Premier League side will be getting a man of character, a man with the right attitude to fix their faltering defense.