Second tier elite clubs from France are although subjected to the hegemony of money bags Paris Saint Germain, but in terms of developing youth, the influence comes from the other way. The likes of Lyon, Monaco and Marseille are arguably more proficient in blossoming youth. Take the likes of Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Florian Thauvin as examples.
And Marseille have, in recent times, had managers who have a knack for producing young players under them. Marcelo Bielsa did that very well in the past and during his stint at the Stade Velodrome, much like current manager Michel who has taken over a youthful set of players. And one underrated player who has been through and through developed in France in Marseille center back Nicolas N’Koulou.
Although, N’Koulou commenced his career at the Kadji Sports Complex, which has produced players like Samuel Eto’o and Carlos Kameni in the past, it was in Monaco where he developed into the player he is today. He joined the Stade Louis based side in 2007, signing a three year deal. After making impressive performances for Monaco throughout the four year period at the club, N’Koulou became a rather coveted center half, who was being scouted by clubs like Arsenal, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Lyon at the end of the 2010-11.
During the summer of 2011, N’Koulou penned a four year deal with the then Ligue 1 runner ups Marseille. Since then, N’Koulou has made a total of 143 appearances for the French giants and has become a truly reliable customer for them.
N’Koulou is currently 25 and weighs 77 kilograms, with a height of 180 centimeters, which is strong and burly enough to be a defender. And rightly so, he’s more efficient in the defensive side of the game than the attacking side of it.
N’Koulou’s height allows him to be strong in the air and good at it. The Cameroon International has won 2.5 headers in every game, which is quite good, considering he’s an important center half for Marseille. He’s not exactly a combative or a bruising center half, but is a combination of being one and being a cultured defender.
Another important aspect of his play is quickness off the ball, while marking the opponents. He has played at right back in the past and playing in that position has helped him develop this trait of his. And he’s also got a bit of experience in playing as a defensive midfielder, which is a reason why N’Koulou is a sound passer too.
He completes 88 percent of his passes, which brings to the fore how much of a cultured center half he is. More so, N’Koulou possess a good vision and a decent passing range too. He plays 2.6 long balls per game.
What makes the defender a tough opponent to deal with is his tackling ability and his accurate reading of the game. He has made as many as 3.1 interceptions per game this season and knows when to stick in a leg and when not to.
The only weakness in N’Koulou’s game is his loss of concentration. He can lose confidence and end up making an error, when you won’t expect him to do so. He’s slowly getting rid of this issue and although, hasn’t made a single error this season, he has to be vary of this shortcoming in his play.
Liverpool are in need of a center half, considering their defensive crisis and Chelsea need versatile defenders who can play at full back, taking into account Branislav Ivanovic’s struggles and lack of depth in that position.