Koulibaly: Stats show why age is just a number to Chelsea

Ageing defenders are in vogue for the Stamford Bridge side https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Koulibaly.jpg, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thiago_Silva,Al_Hilal_SFC_vs_Chelsea_F.C.,_9_February_2022-_02.jpg, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Inside_Stamford_Bridge.jpg

By Alexander Hodgkins-Jones

Chelsea’s transfer policy of only offering players over the age of 30 one-year deals has been part of the footballing discourse for some time.

In the past, the Blues have stuck to their guns and allowed big-name players like Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas to all move on once they hit the big three-oh.

Fabregas was probably the biggest miss, opting for a multi-year deal at French side AS Monaco rather than a further year of uncertainty at Stamford Bridge.

It has also cost the club potential transfer targets, players such as Edin Dzeko, a target in 2018, choosing to go elsewhere or stay at their club due to the promise of financial stability.

However, more recently the policy seems to have shifted.

Thiago Silva has been a revelation for Chelsea in defence since arriving as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 35-year-old in 2020.

And the imminent arrival of 31-year-old Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli on a reported three-year deal, suggests new Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly has officially scrapped it.

Although Silva has been subject to the same policy, signing two more 12-month deals in subsequent years, his success at such an old age in footballing terms has probably had some bearing on the decision to go for long-time target Koulibaly despite his ‘advanced’ vintage.

Ageing like wine

Like Silva, Koulibaly does not rely solely on pace to defend well. Speed and power may naturally decrease as players age, but this matters less for defenders who can instead rely on experience and intelligence to make a smart block, tackle at the right time or make an important interception.

WhoScored.com, created with Microsoft Excel
WhoScored.com, created with Microsoft Excel

Knowing where to be and when to block is an art for older defenders.

Outgoing centre-back Antonio Rudiger will be a big miss for the team, but last season the elder Koulibaly made three times as many blocks per 90 as the German, while making just as many tackles.

WhoScored.com, created with Microsoft Excel
WhoScored.com, created with Microsoft Excel

A comparison to John Terry is not new for Thiago Silva.

Both he and Koulibaly bore a striking similarity in their 2021-22 defending stats to the then 35-year-old during the title-winning campaign of 2014-15. Koulibaly will be turning 34 before the end of the deal if reports are to be believed.

WhoScored.com, created with Microsoft Excel

Could this mean a title charge for Chelsea? Fans will at least be hoping for an eased transition at the back and a continuation of the downward trend of goals conceded.

Premier Leagoe.com, created with Microsoft Excel

Coventry-based Chelsea fan Kyle Brassington said: “[Thiago] Silva has proved if you’re clever at the back it doesn’t matter how old you are.

“It’s been frustrating getting rid of older players just because they’re past 30. We need some leaders in the team and that only comes with age.

“[Koulibaly] is going to be really good for Chelsea. I was gutted when [Rudiger] left but looks like we’ve found a replacement straight away.”

The Senegal international has been capped 62 times for his country and if the signing goes through, he will join compatriot Édouard Mendy in Chelsea’s defence. 

Although going forward seemed to be the Blues’ biggest issue last season, the departures of stalwart Rudiger to Real Madrid and Danish youth product Andreas Christensen to Barcelona had left many fans worried.

The club have also been linked with Nathan Ake from Manchester City and 22-year-old Dutch captain Matthijs de Ligt, currently playing for Juventus.

It’s unknown if the potential signing of Koulibaly will affect these deals.

Chelsea kick off their 2022-23 campaign away to Everton on August 6.

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