As per reports from Fabrizio Romano, Chelsea 'have opened official talks' for Sevilla’s 22-year-old French centre-back Jules Kounde, who is the club's 'main target' for the centre-back position.
Whilst the deal is far from concluded, negotiations are developing well; the player recently rejected a move to Tottenham to hold out for Champions League football.
This news also comes after speculation linking Kurt Zouma with a move away from the club after seven years in west London, with Roma, and more recently, Tottenham interested in the Frenchman.
Not turning 23 until November, Kounde is rated as one of Europe’s finest young centre-backs, and would represent Chelsea’s first serious move of the summer window. Kounde already has 159 senior appearances to his name, experience in both the Champions League and Europa League, and represented France at Euro 2020.
Kounde would represent an extremely shrewd signing - bolstering Chelsea defensively and providing quality depth as the club look to build on the Champions League victory with progression in multiple competitions.
What sort of profile is Kounde, and what skillset could he offer to a Chelsea side next season?
Career to Date
Born in Paris, Kounde joined Bordeaux’s academy aged 15, and became a regular in the reserve side in 2016/17, aged 18. His involvement with the first team increased in the following season, when he made his debut versus Granville in the Coupe de France.
After missing out on the first 19 league games, Kounde became a stalwart in defence for the remainder of the campaign - playing the full 90 minutes in 16 of the final 18 games, as well as making his debut for France’s u20s.
The 2018/19 marked further progression for Kounde. The defender played every available minute across both domestic competitions, as well as 450 of an available 540 minutes in the Europa League as Bordeaux were knocked out in the group stage.
Kounde also missed just one league game all season - Bordeaux finished 14th, although conceded only 42 goals, five less than 3rd placed Lyon, and only seven more than champions PSG. Kounde’s defensive acumen, combined with his growing experience at a young age, saw Sevilla snap him up in July 2019 for €25 million.
Kounde played 40 games in all competitions in his first season in Spain - 29 out of a possible 38 in La Liga as Sevilla finished 4th, and nine of 12 in the Europa League as Los Hispalenses won the competition for a record sixth time. Kounde played every minute in the knockout stage, and his 7.14 SofaScore in the competition included fine displays against Wolves and Roma.
Kounde further continued his upward trajectory last season. He increased his involvement in the league to 34 games as Sevilla finished 4th again, although with seven more points, as well as picking up experience in the Champions League - missing just one game of eight with COVID-19.
This form saw Kounde called up to France’s senior squad in May this year - he made his debut against Wales in June, and also played in the 2-2 draw with Portugal. As Kounde’s stock continued to grow he was linked with moves to Real Madrid, Manchester United and Tottenham in recent weeks.
Style of Play
Kounde is a ‘modern’ and versatile centre-back - pacey, excellent at distribution, and able to play in a back three as well as at right-back. As mentioned, it was last season when Kounde really came into his own and caught the eye of a number of top clubs across Europe. He was the highest rated centre-back in La Liga last season according to WhoScored with a rating of 7.01 - a greater score than Raphael Varane (6.85), Jose Gimenez (6.78) and Gerard Pique (6.80).
Furthermore, within the Sevilla squad, Kounde ranked highest for passes into the final third (165), aerial duels won (118), ball recoveries (312) and interceptions (42), demonstrating the roundness of his game. Across all u23 year olds in La Liga last season, Kounde also ranked highest for headed clearances, passes into the opposition half, and most possession won in the defensive third.
Whilst Kounde exhibits the skills of a ‘complete’ defender, he particularly excels at playing out from the back - a valuable trait in Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-3 setup. When compared to other centre-backs in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues, Kounde ranks in the top 10% for progressive passing distance per 90 (432m), short passes completed per 90 (21.1), and pass completion rate for medium passes per 90 (95.8%).
Kounde is most comfortable at right centre-back and often likes to stride forward with the ball to break opposition lines. His 1.24 dribbles completed per 90 is in the top 2% for European centre-backs, and can be visualised below:
Impressively, across 2019/20, Kounde ranked higher than Virgil van Dijk for dribblers tackled per 90, possession won per 90, successful pressures per 90, and non-penalty expected goals per 90. Kounde is a seriously exciting defensive prospect, and would offset the recent sales of Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guehi to AC Milan and Crystal Palace, respectively.
Role at Chelsea
A deal for Kounde is likely to hinge on the departure of Kurt Zouma. Assuming the likes of Malang Sarr and Matt Miazga leave on loan, this will leave Chelsea with Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Cesar Azpilicueta and Reece James as centre-back options.
With Kounde preferring the right centre-back role, Chelsea could line-up like this next season - with Azpilicueta gradually phased out after turning 32 later this month:
With Chelsea having worked in silence this summer up until now, Kounde represents a move in the right direction to compete in multiple competitions next season, with the goal to close the gap on champions Man City.