Milan have been on the look for a new centre-back for quite a while it seems. With the club no longer able to bankroll transfers like the €32million paid for Alessandro Nesta in 2001, the Rossoneri have entrusted scouting chief Geoffrey Moncada with finding a partner for captain Alessio Romagnoli inside certain economic parameters.
A name constantly linked with Milan in recent weeks has been Tanguy Kouassi. The most staggering thing about the Frenchman is that he is only 17 years old and has started six league game for PSG already.
Brought in as a replacement for the injured Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, Thomas Tuchel was so impressed with the boy he kept him as a squad rotation option so that he can gain experience and continue to grow.
To play in Tuchel’s system defenders are expected to be multi-faceted along with possessing the usual defensive qualities, i.e. they need to be good passers and read the game well. Blessed with versatility, Kouassi has played at centre-back as well as defensive midfield
However, his deal runs out at the end of the month, meaning he could be available on a free, and Milan are making an aggressive play for his services. Here, Rohit Rajeev takes a look at the player and his qualities…
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Height: 188 centimetres
Transfermarkt Value: €11million
One of the most noticeable things about Kouassi is his tall but lean frame at 17 years of age. With his height and along with a good jump, Kouassi is able to consistently win aerial duels.
He already has two goals through headers in his senior PSG career, but Kouassi is not all just brawn as he has exemplary skill at timing his jump and anticipating the position of the ball. While he is adept aerially, he is strong in physical duels and is able to hold out against tall strikers, although he sometimes struggles against players who are bulkier.
When in possession, Kouassi shows perfect body balance and opponents find it hard to push him off the ball. He can be a bit over-aggressive at times when he contests for the ball in the air and gives away fouls, but this however cannot be said for his defensive qualities where he has excellent positioning. He uses his anticipation and awareness against quicker opponents, as well as his speed.
The teenager tends to push high up the pitch when PSG are not in possession and if the opposition uses the wings to attack, he combines with the full-back to create overloads. While pressing higher up the pitch and in case there is a turnover in possession, it helps to create a window for a counter-attack – which is something prospective new ,manager Ralf Rangnick also likes to do.
Kouassi always prefers to play safe and short passes instead of long balls and this limits his creativity. When playing as a defensive midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 formation he often offloads the ball to Marco Verratti or Leonardo Paredes who occupies the same role alongside him but are more known for their playmaking and distribution.
As mentioned, the main core of Kouassi’s speciality arises from his defending. Kouassi like many modern defenders out-thinks his opponents to beat them. His decision making in threatening situations for the team is what makes him stand out. Also, he prefers to hold his ground and not slide recklessly. This makes him very good on 1v1 duels.
Another aspect which is very important for defenders and a clear strength for Kouassi is his marking, as he prefers to keep an optimal distance from the player so as to not get beaten by explosive players
In the image below, the Amiens forward who was receiving the ball was closed down by Kouassi – but he didn’t lunge into a challenge, otherwise the striker would have put the winger through and found space.
Kouassi has a tidy ball control for a 17-year-old and knows how to spread the play well. He does not give up possession easily when pressed and prefers to drive forward with the ball and pass it to a more creative opponent.
The image below can be seen as an example of his ability to play out from the back. While he drives forward with the ball, the opposition is forced to close him down which creates space between the lines, which is occupied by a creative PSG player.
Kouassi prefers to play short safe passes instead of attempting longer, riskier balls. He prefers to keep the ball close to his feet and move forward with it whenever he is pressed and passing lanes are cut off. What works for Koaussi is that PSG build up their play with short passes rather than long passes anyway, and against narrow defensive teams he is inclined to play more towards flanks and supply the wingers.
Although pacy, Kouassi’s acceleration – i.e, time taken to reach top speed – is not exactly quick at the moment. This makes him vulnerable against explosive players, and he also lacks the stamina which makes him to play at a less efficient rate in the latter stages of the game.
Kouassi also tends to have questionable spacial and positional awareness at times, which can lead to him getting closed down very fast when he is on the ball. Some may call it complacency, but it is a flaw that can be worked on.
A good fit for Milan?
Kouassi is only 17 and has played for PSG in the Champions League making his debut against Galatasaray. Despite his obvious shortcomings it is evident the player does not have enough games under his belt, but has high potential to hit heights that Milan have not seen since the days of Nesta and Maldini.
Thomas Tuchel uses a variation of the Gegenpress professed by Rangnick. With careful treatment, Kouassi can be developed into a behemoth in the centre of defence. With him coming to the end of his contract at the end of this season, Milan would be able to get him on a free transfer for a minuscule compensation fee, meaning it is an incredibly low-risk deal with potentially huge rewards.