Chelsea ignored former boss Rafa Benitez’s concerns over Kalidou Koulibaly last summer and now face spending £110million on the defender’s replacement. The Blues signed experienced centre-back Koulibaly for a whopping £33m but he has struggled since his switch from Napoli.
Speaking after the transfer, Benitez warned that Chelsea were getting a player who sometimes lacked concentration and might need to adapt to the Premier League. The Spaniard has since been proven correct, with Koulibaly being strongly criticised for his role in Ollie Watkins opening the scoring during Aston Villa’s 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
The Senegal international failed to communicate with Marc Cucurella and allowed the ball to drop over his head. Watkins raced through on goal and lobbed Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Benitez had said about Koulibaly: “He must improve his concentration at times. He can be guilty of losing focus and can be overconfident, but he has been hugely influential at Napoli and people I know and trust have told me that he has been the best centre-back in Italy during this time.
“This season will be the Premier League for him and he could be fine for the way that [then-Chelsea boss, Thomas] Tuchel wants to play. He has similarities with [Antonio] Rudiger - he is very good at running with the ball, he’s good with both feet.
"Is he a little bit too nice? We will see what happens at Chelsea. As I said, in Italy he was fine because he was so quick, but I doubt he will be so dominant over here.
“Aerial ability wasn't his biggest strength but in Italy that mattered a bit less and he was okay. It will be interesting to see how that develops in the Premier League but he was always very keen to learn and he spent time with me and my staff after training sessions to work on his heading and improving his technique.”
Chelsea have earmarked Josko Gvardiol as a replacement for Koulibaly. But the Croatian is likely to cost his full £110m release clause and the Blues will face competition from most of Europe’s top club for the in-demand defender.
On the evidence of the Villa defeat, Graham Potter desperately needs upgrades in defence. Koulibaly and Cucurella were both slated by Sky Sports commentator Andy Hinchcliffe for allowing Watkins to run through on goal.
The former England left-back said: “Koulibaly should be dropping deep and trying to deal with it. No communication, terrible positioning.“
Hinchcliffe added: “Cucurella and Koulibaly, that is appalling defending. It’s relatively easy for Ollie Watkins to get in behind that line when you defend like that, but the fact it’s a bouncing ball makes Watkins’ mind up and the lift over the goalkeeper is outstanding.
“Koulibaly is marking Ollie Watkins so Cucurella, just stay away. Koulibaly should be screaming at him. It confuses the issue and then Koulibaly doesn’t know what to do and he doesn’t stay with the forward run of Watkins.”