Kalidou Koulibaly: Weaknesses Chelsea need Graham Potter to fix urgently

When Kalidou Coulibaly Allegorically revealed in Cobham in August, he tried to manage expectations.

“I’m going to need time,” he said, “because I can’t be the player everyone wants (me to be) from the first game.” “I’ll take my time and in two or three months, I’ll be the one everyone has been waiting for.”

It was not known then that coach Thomas Tuchel did not have time to wait.

The Senegal The steep international learning curve in a new team, tactical system and league after eight years in Italy with Napoli was a notable subplot of the disappointing results immediately preceding ChelseaNew partners at Todd Boehle and Clearlake Capital decide it A change in the bunker was required.

Getting to Stamford Bridge He has a reputation as one of the most respected defenders of his generationCoulibaly was seen by Tuchel as capable of helping Chelsea re-establish their Champions League-winning defensive standards from day one.

Under the German, he started six of his seven matches, missing the other only through suspension.

But Chelsea kept just one clean sheet in those matches, and Koulibaly’s assessment of his preparedness proved more accurate than Tuchel’s hopes.

There were enough flashes of supernatural defensive instincts and ball ability to cheer New coach Graham Potterbut also on the occasions when the 31-year-old’s aggressive instincts and vulnerability in the air got his team in trouble.


Coulibaly talked about how he enjoys one-on-one duels with the attackers. His desire to assert himself at every opportunity makes him easily suitable for a highly pressurized system, as well as his speed and comfort in defense in space. However, such a proactive approach means that any miscalculation can come at a heavy price.

The last target of the Tuchel era provided a prime example.

Dinamo Zagreb, playing from a low block, shoots a high ball towards Bruno Petkovic. After letting the striker slip away from him, Koulibaly lunged forward intent on intercepting or pressing his opponent’s first touch…

…but it’s too late to do either, and Petkovic simply puts a header in the way of Mislav Orsic, who does so masterfully to outrun the now lonely person Wesley Fofana And finish quietly afterwards Kepa Arizabalaga.

On other occasions, Coulibaly’s failed attempts to grab the ball high up the field led to unnecessary errors as he rushed to reclaim his position. Here it is the opening weekend against Evertontracking Anthony Gordoncountry range.

Gordon poses no immediate threat and Chelsea have the numbers behind the ball to tackle the counter, but Koulibaly still collects him on the field.

The following weekend at home for TottenhamCoulibaly moves towards the left touchline for Chelsea to continue Harry Kingwho drifted across to receive a pass from Emerson Royal.

He does a good job at the start, forcing Kane to put the first touch off the goal to protect the ball…

…but then runs straight through him, conceding a free kick in a threatening position.

The most egregious example came another week on Elland Road, where Chelsea found himself in a shambles early and often. Leeds UnitedRelentless ran. Coulibaly in particular made himself compromise on defensive positions which eventually led to his sacking in the 84th minute.

A yellow card that could have been avoided in the ninth minute left him walking on a disciplinary tightrope.

It’s simply too close to Brendan Aronson Where the American receives a pass near the touchline.

Aaronson manages to use his forward momentum against him, spinning around with a sharp first touch and tempting Koulibaly to grab him around the waist so he doesn’t drive into dangerous territory.

Koulibaly’s second booking was for a similar offense, albeit at a point in the match where Tuchel sacrificed every semblance of tactical balance by replacing his entire midfield in search of an equaliser.

As Leeds finds itself in a promising counterattack, Joe Gilhardt Puts the ball in a path Sam Greenwood

…and instead of just running with his leg, Coulibaly (perhaps out of frustration) wrapped his arm around Gilhardt and pulled him down.

At that reveal in August, a player was voted on leagueTeam of the Year four times during those eight years in Naples identified the main challenge to adapt to Premier Leaguesaying, “I have to think faster, go faster, and move my eyes faster.

“In the first division, everything is calmer in the mind. You have to think about every movement. Here, you have to think very fast, and that is the first thing I have to change.”

Potter hopes that Coulibaly will be able to expedite this sense sooner rather than later.


It hasn’t been bad for Koulibaly so far at Chelsea.

Against Spurs, he displayed several attributes that could make him of great value to an elite team – other than his impressive shot from Mark Cucurella The angle that opened the recording.

His technical quality with the ball at his feet played a huge role in Chelsea’s ability to beat the pressure of Spurs, pin them down and play through low mass. Here, he plans to play a pass with his left foot, and evaluates the options in front of him as follows Diane Kulusevsky Moves to block his way forward Mason Mount

…but Koulibaly sees this and quickly spins around the ball, creating an angle for a right-footed pass behind Kulusevski, in the space he just cleared. In this way, he found a mountain in space.

On the occasions Spurs have tried to press high, Koulibaly has kept his head and trusted his technique. Here, he passes a low pass from his penalty area through three opponents…

… directly on the left foot of Kai Havertzwho can immediately redirect him to Mount on the left side and bring Spurs back towards his goal.

In the opponent’s half, Koulibaly also found the right balance between safe side passes and more consistent passes that knocked many opponents out of play.

Here, he comes up with a one-touch scrolling sequence – from Mt to Cucurella Raheem Sterling And then back to him – with a sharp first pass through a narrow gap to the feet of the mountain.

There was a moment in the second half when Koulibaly’s zealous ball-winning instinct seemed to win the Chelsea game. He installed Kulusevski on the right seam from the back, with N’Golo Kanti – The Best of N’Golo Kanti Cut any escape from the other side.

Koulibaly manages to win the ball cleanly and send it spinning freely to Kante, who plays a pass to Sterling.

This sequence leaves Rhys James Wide open to overlap…

…and he scores to give Chelsea a 2-1 lead.

Once he resets his instincts to the special nature of Premier League football, Koulibaly will surely have a lot to offer to Potter’s side both in and out of possession.


Perhaps the most surprising problem of the finals was in Tuchel’s period Chelsea’s sudden inability to successfully defend set pieces.

Only last season Manchester (1 goal) Conceded fewer Premier League goals from dead balls than Chelsea’s four, but in their first six games in 2022-23, Tuchel’s men allowed four goals from set pieces. Just promoted Bournemouth (Five) They allowed more, and Koulibaly was undoubtedly part of the problem.

He often became a spectator too easily as the events went on, rather than using his massive frame and sportsmanship to sway them for the benefit of his team.

For the gritty corner-kick that Chelsea conceded in stoppage time against Tottenham, his starting position is good…

…but by the time the ball rolls into the six-yard box, he’s regressed toward the goal line rather than going forward to attack the serve, contributing to a situation that any of Spurs’ three players can tackle with a free-headed.

Returning to that opening win over Everton, Koulibaly failed to respond to the high-corner track sloping towards the back post, watching her sail over his head…

… and the effect Edward Mendy To try to catch the ball while sweeping it see Mina And the Dwight McNeill.

He at least takes a good position on the line when the ball ends at my feet Abdullah Dokour But this is a shot on goal that we should not allow Chelsea to happen in the first place.

West HamAnd his opening goal at Stamford Bridge in the last Premier League game two weeks ago poorly reflects Coulibaly’s set-piece defense.

He was assigned to watch over the men Thomas Suchek In the close post, but the Czech Republic international swerves away from him…

…by the time Mendy is challenged to conduct another aerial intervention under heavy pressure, Koulibaly had moved off the goal line, watching the ball rather than anticipating what might happen and thus not in a position to block Michael Antonio the transfer Declan ricelow cross.

It is fair to note that all the examples given here are the result of multiple points of failure by many Chelsea players. In that sense, Koulibaly’s distinction might be a little harsh, but the truth is that as one of the tallest and most physically strong players on the team, Potter needs to be better than what we’ve seen so far.

That’s where Koulibaly’s broader aerial fencing numbers are a concern: FBref.com has ranked him in the bottom third of center back in Europe’s top five air fencing tournaments, won every 90 minutes over the past 12 months.

The arrival of fellow center back Fofana (who ranks first in the first quarter in the same scale) from Lister Chelsea’s set-piece defense should help under Potter, but Koulibaly must offer his big physical tools in the air.


Defensive success or failure is collective, not individual. Just look at how fallible it is Virgil van Dijk Suddenly it appears in Liverpool The team that so far this season lacks the intense intensity and tactical cohesion of previous years.

Coulibaly’s early difficulties must be seen not only in terms of his adaptation to English football but also from the perspective of Chelsea’s broader defensive decline in recent times under Tuchel.

The most urgent task of replacing Potter is to find a tactical framework that makes the most sense for Chelsea in every area of ​​the pitch, with a pressure system that allows them to defend from the front first. This is now a significantly different group than the one Tuchel inherited in January last year, so solutions to these problems could take the team down a different path.

But if Potter can find the right chassis, there is plenty of reason to believe that a fully conditioned Koulibaly will offer more than they take away.