What Kalidou Koulibaly did to Nicolas Pepe to inspire rare Chelsea positive in Arsenal defeat


It's safe to say Kalidou Koulibaly made a positive first impression in Chelsea colours, even as the Blues fell to a comprehensive defeat to Arsenal.

In a match dominated by the difference in intensity and match-readiness between the two London sides, the Senegal international still managed to highlight what he could have to offer over the course of his four-year contract.

After signing Koulibaly from Napoli, Jorginho was unequivocal in his assessment of the transfer that brought his former teammate to Stamford Bridge. He said:

"For me, the club – along with the staff and the coach - have made the best possible choice in bringing Kalidou to the club. I just really hope, and I’m pretty sure of this, he will be a big help to our team. He is a fantastic player and a perfect replacement [for Antonio Rudiger]."

Rudiger brought presence to the Chelsea side. Whether it be through a firm challenge or unusual antic he was able to lift the crowd. It is too soon to know if Koulibaly will fill that gap but he provided a rare positive in a pretty dire performance from the Blues as they brought their US tour to a close.

Tuchel described Koulibaly as Chelsea's 'best player on the pitch' and noted 'on an evening where nothing felt good, this felt good'. Indeed it might have been nice to have seen the defender for even longer.

However, the 48-year-old Blues boss seemed to suggest in his post-match press conference that Chelsea utilising a back four in the opening half of the friendly was more a question of resources as opposed to flexing a new tactical muscle. Put simply:

"If you want to play three at the back you need to have three in the back. If you don’t, it’s not worth playing three in the back."

It's a sign Chelsea are not yet ready, and that during this stage of squad building, expectations may need to be tempered for the team and player.

The £33 million signing joined up with the Blues in Las Vegas ahead of the friendly match with Club America and was still acclimatising as Chelsea faced Charlotte FC.

He was not even deemed primed to replace Trevoh Chalobah before half time against Arsenal, when the 23-year-old was taken off as a precaution following a knock to his knee.

It took until the 73rd minute for Koulibaly to make his debut when he replaced Thiago Silva at the heart of Chelsea's defence. His 20 minute cameo showed a solid exhibit of his qualities.

Koulibaly produced some excellent passing with both feet, domineering strength and the ability to put his body on the line. He first foiled Nicolas Pepe as he bullied him off the ball and then protected it well out wide, before a late slide ensured an impressive block on Eddie Nketiah's shot towards goal.

A mistimed tackle on Nketiah where the Senegal international was forced to stop the Arsenal forward with his trailing leg served as a reminder that the 31-year-old is not yet up to speed.

Koulibaly's performance wasn't perfect but it was a display that provided some reason for optimism in a team display that lacked any.

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