Thursday December 20 2018
The best defender in the world?

Kalidou Koulibaly has quickly become a candidate for the title of best defender in the world, but it’s the little things which are holding him back, writes Massimo Nuzzo.

If you asked people how many mountains are in Naples the consensus would be one, Mount Vesuvius. However, if you ask Napolitani, they’ll say there are two, with the second being Kalidou Koulibaly.

Dubbed “K2,” after the mountain in Asia, the 27-year-old Senegalese center-back stands at six foot, five inches tall, with a 196lb frame, making him worthy of being described as a “mountain of a man.”

Prior to joining Napoli, Koulibaly plied his trade in France for Metz, and in Belgium for Genk. He signed for the Partenopei in 2014 in a move that cost Napoli-owner Aurelio De Laurentiis around €8m, a price which is now seen as a steal. Kalidou’s worth has done nothing but skyrocket since then, with reported offers of up to £95 million being thrown Napoli’s way courtesy of Manchester United.

If De Laurentiis had accepted the offer, Koulibaly would have surpassed Virgil van Dijk as the most expensive defender in history, a title that, if gained, will be rightfully earned.In the past two years, K2 has made a case for himself to be regarded as the best defender in the world, but it’s his performances this year that have brought up serious discussion amongst the football community. Koulibaly’s performances against Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, along with his consistency in Serie A, have done nothing but strengthen his case. He’s shown that he can shut down Europe’s elite with outstanding defensive showings when matched up against the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Mohamed Salah, and Neymar.

What makes Koulibaly such a force to be reckoned with is his versatility. He combines defensive prowess and innate physical superiority with great technical ability that is only common among the world’s best defenders. Additionally, Kalidou is an excellent shot-stopper. He rarely gives his opponents any room to get a shot off, and when they do, he is standing in the way to save his goalkeeper the trouble.

One of his most notable and “viral” displays of these qualities came in Napoli’s 2-2 draw with PSG at the Parc des Princes. Mbappe dribbled at Koulibaly with the intentions of beating him on pace, however, once Mbappe took a touch to burst past him, K2 matched his speed and outmuscled the soon to be 20-year-old and slid to take the ball off of him.

This is one of Kalidou’s most important traits, as we often see him racing back to stop counter-attacks when he races forward to help his team out in the attack. The difference between Koulibaly and other defenders, though, is that his surging runs forwards are a common occurrence in every game whether his side needs a goal or not. The technical ability instilled in him during Maurizio Sarri’s time with Napoli allows K2 to be an important component in build-up play and, often times, attacks on goal. His assist to Insigne in the Partenopei’s 5-1 win against Empoli is the perfect example of just how effective he is.

These qualities create a compelling case for Koulibaly to be the best defender in the world, and he very well might be. There are a couple of flaws in his game, though, which hold the Senegalese international back from being given that title completely. Kalidou is prone to simple errors in his passing game. Often we see the 27-year-old misplace a somewhat easy pass that gives the other team possession. Also, Koulibaly has always been a massive threat on set-pieces, but he is yet to score this season.

When you think of the current best defenders in the world, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Diego Godin all come to mind. Now, it’d be foolish not to include Kalidou Koulibaly in that mix.  Whether or not he is the best in the world is still up for discussion, with many saying he is. K2 finds himself hovering right at the threshold of becoming the most coveted defender in all of world football, but it is those previously mentioned errors that prevent him from breaking through that threshold. Once he fixes these, count on him to be the outright world’s best.

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Have your say...
j-j I am afraid I agree with Iron Lion. Bonucci is not a top defender at all. He is a good ball player from the back but a poor man marker. Look at how easily Divan Zapata turned him in game against Atalanta. Most of our goals have been Bonucci blunders. I don't understand why Allegri does not play Rugani more often who is a fantastic man marker and defender. I think he deserves a position ahead of Bonucci.
on the 28th December, 2018 at 6:15am
Varane & Umtiti have shown their quality this year. Varane is the number one defender right now. Chiellini had one good tournament for Italy (his first in 08) Bonucci is a much better option. K2 is the best defender in Serie A, no doubt about it. van Dikj has reignited Holland and taken Liverpool's defence forward. As a Man United fan, I would happily take K2 for £100 million. His value is not quantifiable.
on the 27th December, 2018 at 5:03pm
on behalf of all interisti, i would like to say sorry for what happened last nite to K2
on the 27th December, 2018 at 7:12am
@PrimoCalcio You are absolutely right I shouldn’t put 100% fault on Koul. Ospina did look bad at the goal and so did Rui but let’s remember Koul and Rui were tasked to prevent Salah from getting to Ospina and both failed to stop Salah. Ultimately the claim is that Koul. Is amongst the best defenders well Salah’s goal was at least in part his fault as he was left behind just like Rui was easily beat. On the night Liverpool could have had 5 or 6 goals and Koul was partially at fault!
on the 25th December, 2018 at 7:53pm
Mandzukic is better defender than Koulibaly.
on the 24th December, 2018 at 9:50pm
He still has not reached Chiellini’s level and will not. Why? If u watched the game vs Juventus, when facing cr7,he chickened out and made a few mistake he would not have facing the other players. He was 2 nervous.
He is no doubt one of the top 10 defenders but not in top 5. He might be in the top 5 but has to leave Napoli for a top club.
on the 24th December, 2018 at 12:58pm
Sorry Dino, but you can't place 100% blame on Koulibaly for Salah's goal.
Rui let Salah run free when he stopped playing, appealing for a cheap freekick. Koulibaly, on a technical level, defended properly by taking away Salah left foot. He was beaten on the outside, not the inside, which forced Salah to the touchline where he would be less dangerous. Ospina took a risk and dove early, anticipating Salah to pass, but instead was beaten at his near post from a tight angle, a clear GK's error.
on the 24th December, 2018 at 1:39am
Koul. Was at fault for Salah’s goal vs Liverpool people tried blaming Ospina for it but Koul. was at left for dead by Salah’s pace. He keeps making simple mistakes that put his team in difficulty it’s not that he missplaces his passes in midfield but in front of the defense. Also in Serie A vs. weaker forwards he seems like agreat defender but as soon as he faces someone stronger faster he starts making ridiculous mistakes and thats why he is not the best in the world.
on the 23rd December, 2018 at 9:16pm
@Big Boss: You forgot to mention that Van Dijk also gets away with leg breaking tackles that should be red cards, and Koulibaly doesn't. This definitely puts him in the world class category.
on the 22nd December, 2018 at 6:53pm
hes a solid defender, strong, tough as nails, can play the ball a bit, dangerous on corners. BUT, you mentioned he defended well vs liverpool. did you not see when Salah made K2 look like Jerome Boateng vs Messi a few years back??????? all in all he's in category as one of the top defenders in the world. I wouldn't even consider Marcelo there, guy is terrible at defending. Also, not in order but Chiellini is very much under rated and he is clearly the best ball stopping centre back in the world.
on the 22nd December, 2018 at 4:12am
Great player, I cannot see a weakness in his game. There is no way that he is 6'5. 6'4 Patrick Vieira almost towers over him when they were pictured together. And when he's stood next to 6'0 Hamsik, he looks approx 1-2 inches taller than the Slovakian. I think that people are confusing his height with that of his International teammate, Salif Sane.
on the 21st December, 2018 at 1:07pm

Fair point lol. It's just hard not to listen to the experts on the epl coverage on TV who keep going on how great he is. But they don't watch anything else so how could they know? lol

Obviously Koulibaly is a match for VVD now that I think about it. VVD messed up so bad vs PSG and Liverpool lost half of their 6 group games so they were very luck to go through. Ramos, Godin and Chiellini are better than VVD too.
on the 21st December, 2018 at 1:03am
CG - I'm a Juve fan, but you can't compare Bonucci to Koulibaly, maybe 2 years ago, but not today. Bonucci's not in the same zip code and has probably been mostly responsible for greater than 50% of goals against Juve this year. Chiellini's great, but aging, Bonucci no.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 8:36pm
Varane too, maybe Hummels and Boateng no longer in the conversation.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 6:45pm
K2 isn't the best because he doesn't score as much as Ramos? or because occasionally misplaces passes? Every CB misplaces passes.
Anyone who watched both legs Napoli vs Liverpool know K2 was more impressive the VVD.
Why is Marcelo, a great player but hardly a defender, more like a LW, mentioned with the world'd best CBs?
Koulibaly, VVD, Chiellini, Bonucci, Godin, Skriniar, and if i have to I guess Ramos.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 6:44pm
@ Dan "When you think of the current best defenders in the world, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Diego Godin all come to mind" Are you out of your mind those 3 are the biggest hacks in football not counting Real Madrid being lucky due to officials being blind on pitch an all around favortism from La Liga and sponsors. La Liga defenders think they are playing rugby no tactical skill. Dont forget Casemiro worst of all.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 5:26pm
Virgil van who is the best defender in the what? Hahahahahah hahahah what new drug are you on buddy hahahahah i hope that was a joke.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 5:17pm
"If K2 goes to Juve" - Kalidou would be the first to shut down any of those rumours hahaha. Best defender in the world at 27 years of age.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 5:06pm
I wouldn't call Liverpool Europe's elite.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 3:41pm
I don't want him at Juve anyways, and don't get me wrong. I would gladly take him for free, but for 100m+ no way. He is too old for that price
on the 20th December, 2018 at 2:36pm
When you think of the current best defenders in the world, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Diego Godin all come to mind.... Marcelo def skills are laughable, and where is Chiellini...
on the 20th December, 2018 at 2:15pm
If Koulibaly played in English league there wouldn't even be a doubt around this.
Napoli have balanced book & have King Carlo at the helm now. It would take a mammoth bid ($120m+) to take away K2 from Napoli & 110% he won't play for Juve for sure (England or Spain)
on the 20th December, 2018 at 1:21pm
Obviously Virgil van Dijk is comfortably the best CB in the world now. He has the same physicality, fear factor, ballplaying skills and technical skill as Koulibaly but has more to offer:
1. Genuine natural Leadership
2. Organizing skills
3. talismanic presence

Weaknesses of Koulibaly includes his lesser positional awareness: he needs to resort to sliding tackles a lot which means he needs to compensate for being poorly positioned. Also Koulibaly is all over the place and lacks discipline.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 1:04pm
If juve get k2 either Bonucci or Chiellini will step aside, there is no team in the world where K2 wouldn't hold a starting berth...a testament to his qualities....the writer was right to mention those players however Ramos was accused of drugs a stain on his terrific abilities....
on the 20th December, 2018 at 12:39pm
"When you think of the current best defenders in the world, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Diego Godin all come to mind"

wtf was this guy smoking when he wrote this article.. rubbish.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 12:00pm
No, what's holding him back is to keep on playing for that under-achieving, never-winning provincial team with the president with the big mouth. Yes, he is a great defender, but nowhere near the likes of Chiellini and Bonucci. If he wants to win things and prove himself on the big stage, he'd better change clubs soon.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 11:25am
I know a lot about football and I know he was slightly at fault for Liverpool's goal

But people forget he had the same front 3 in his pocket during the first game in Naples that Napoli dominated from start to finish, leaving the fine (if overrated) Liverpool attack without a shot on target. I love K2 and think he's in the top 3 defenders in the world with Chiellini and Godin.

But Serie A needs to overhype and overvalue its league like the EPL does so it can get in extra tv cash and keep K2
on the 20th December, 2018 at 11:14am
He rose in some way due to Ghoulam injury. Similar to Mertens due to Milik. Kalu seems to be the best Napoli player now.
on the 20th December, 2018 at 11:07am

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