Fierce recovery speed, lethal leaping ability and the perfect replacement for Cesar Azpilicueta… £55m Jules Kounde looks set to slot in seamlessly at Stamford Bridge if Chelsea manage to hold off Barcelona’s last-gasp bid
- Sevilla defender Jules Kounde is on the brink of a £55m switch to Chelsea
- Barcelona are raising funds with another rights sale to launch a last-minute bid
- He may be an undersized centre-back but he has all the tools to thrive at Chelsea
- Ex-boss Gus Poyet previously has told Sportsmail of his stunning leaping ability
- Thomas Tuchel favours quick and agile centre-backs with natural recovery pace
- The versatile 23-year-old has even starred at right-back on international duty
When Jules Kounde signed for Sevilla in 2019 from Bordeaux, the biggest doubts over him were that he was an attacking player trapped in a defender’s body. Over the next three years those concerns vanished – sure, he could play like a stylish midfielder, but his defensive qualities were beyond question.
In his first season Sevilla had the third best defensive record in La Liga. In his second campaign they repeated that feat. And last season, despite finishing fourth, Sevilla had the best defensive record in the division. Much of that was down to Kounde.
He rarely makes a mistake but when he does he has the pace to recover. His speed also means that defences with him at the heart would be able to play a high line.
Jules Kounde is expected to sign for Chelsea over Barcelona in a deal worth £55m from Sevilla
It is little wonder that Barcelona wanted to sign him. If Xavi is going to park his defence on the halfway line this coming campaign, then there is no one better suited than the 23-year-old French international.
The concern in England might be that, with more aerial threat to deal with week in week out, Kounde is too small. That forgets that he leaps as high as any taller defender.
Gus Poyet had the same doubts when he arrived in Bordeaux during the second half of the 2017-18 season and spotted the young defender in the reserves.
‘He made his debut a week before I arrived,’ Poyet told Sportsmail.
Thomas Tuchel is likely to deploy Kounde on the right-hand side of his back three in defence
‘When you meet Jules and you know he’s a centre-half your first reaction is: oh, he’s not over six foot. But then you see him training and you see him jumping and you see him competing and you say: it’s not an issue.
‘I don’t want to compare him with anyone because he is still young, but we can go to the [Fabio] Cannavaro and [Roberto] Ayala examples. That kind of defender who looks small but they win every ball in the air.’
The fact that Kounde has appeared to favour a move to Barcelona over Chelsea may be the one crimp in his perfect profile, but his preference not to have to change countries is maybe understandable and Kounde’s professional approach is as impeccable as his defending.
The French defender made 32 appearances in LaLiga last campaign as Sevilla finished fourth
Once he starts working with Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel, he will be out to soak up all the know-how from his new manager.
‘He constantly wanted to get better. He was not afraid of asking me questions one to one. Or even asking me to come in for a session in the afternoon on his own,’ Poyet remembers.
As for the attacking capabilities, despite showing his defensive solidity at Sevilla, he has not curbed his ability to join the attacks or even lead them.
Barcelona are preparing to launch a final late offering to scupper Chelsea’s plan to sign him
Sevilla tend to play with a back four but both full-backs – Jesus Navas on the right and Marcos Acuna on the left – push on to provide the width and allow the wingers to run inside.
But there were times last season when Navas was stifled by the opposition and so Kounde became the defender to spring out from the back and make the extra man in attack.
There were also stages of the season when Navas was unavailable through injury and Kounde was always an option to fill in at right back. He has played there for France.
That centre-back/right-back profile makes him the perfect replacement for Cesar Azpilicueta in terms of positions covered.
Chelsea have already secured the signing of Napoli and Senegal centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly
The 32-year-old Spaniard has excelled in his hybrid defensive role at Stamford Bridge, first unearthed by Antonio Conte during Chelsea’s 2016-17 title-winning season.
Sharing a similar height to Kounde at 5ft 10in, Azpilicueta brought a different dynamic to the Chelsea back three, defensive-minded and agile enough to keep shape at centre-half but cover the right-back area and allow the marauding full-back to kick on.
But the veteran has seen his game-time deplete in recent seasons, his 36 starts in 2019-20 decreasing to 24 in both of the last two campaigns.
Favouring an undersized and mobile third centre-back alongside Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger, Tuchel even experimented with Reece James in the back three whilst Azpilicueta was unavailable or needed a rest.
England’s assist-hungry attacking full-back will undoubtedly prosper from the Frenchman’s arrival at Stamford Bridge, no longer held back – quite literally – in the Blues back line.
Cesar Azpilicueta went from 36 starts in 2019-20 to 24 in both of his last two Chelsea seasons
Kounde’s arrival would give Reece James added security as he marauds forward from full-back
Kounde’s all-round ability as a footballer means he could also play in a three, which Tuchel may favour next season. That would give him the chance to push on with the ball at his feet, as Rudiger liked to do on the left-flank.
Even if James were ruled out from time to time through injury, Kounde could comfortably reprise the role he has for his country and cover at right-back.
They will miss him at Sevilla. He is a modest professional who got on with all his team-mates and was able to be a leader when the need arose, while also ceding to the veterans at the club.
The Frenchman has become accustomed to playing at right-back on international duty
Chelsea will be getting a player who piqued Pep Guardiola’s interest at one point, although in the end City went for Ruben Dias. He is a player that Xavi has been desperate to build a new Barcelona defence around.
In the end Barcelona’s elaborate installment-player swap plan has meant Sevilla are far happier to send him to England. That is, unless the Catalan club are able to make good on their late attempt to raise funds with another rights sale and counter the Blues bid with an enhanced offer.
If not, Sevilla will be pleased not to have to face him next season in La Liga. They broke their transfer record to buy him but he has been worth every euro the club’s sporting director Monchi decided to spend on him.
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