In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting talents in the football world. Next up is PSG’s French center-back Tanguy Kouassi.
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Tanguy Kouassi played his first game for Paris Saint-Germain in early December, in the match against Montpellier. A few days later, he became the youngest ever UEFA Champions League debutant in the Parisian club’s history, playing as a midfielder in the 5-0 win against Galatasaray. In late January, he scored his first goal, against Reims in the league cup. A couple of weeks later he scored a brace against Amiens, in a crazy game that PSG eventually drew 4-4, coming back from a 0-3 deficit in the first half. Therefore, it’s hard not to be impressed by his first steps in professional football. At 18, Kouassi had already scored 3 goals and – even more importantly – he proved to be mature enough to play both in defense and midfield.

In the academy, Kouassi used to be played as center-back, but he debuted in the first team as central midfielder in a 4-4-2 tactic. In that position, he played his first three games, until the Coupe de la Ligue round-of-16 against Le Mans, when he started in the midfield, then moving back in the defense after Marquinhos’ injury. Since that moment, he mostly played as center-back, even if sometimes he was deployed in the midfield, as happened in the game against Monaco.

The transition of a defender into a midfielder is a solution that Tuchel already tested with Marquinhos. The thinking was to better cover spaces in front of the defense, but also to have more fluid positioning when building-up the play and to give stability to defensive transitions. Kouassi mostly has the same duties: he protects the defense but he’s also skilled enough to resist defensive pressing and play the ball in tighter spaces than he’s used to doing when playing as center-back. In that situation, he receives the ball with the proper body position with more freedom and in this situation he can easily showcase his ability with the ball.

When he was playing in the academy, Kouassi was so ambitious that he could carry the ball and try to find the strikers directly by playing vertical passes and switching the play behind the defense. When promoted to the first team, his ball distribution became more cautious, but it still is varied and accurate enough to make him one of the best ball-playing defenders in Ligue 1. Kousassi doesn’t only try to find his closest teammates, but he’s already very good at moving play up the pitch with vertical and diagonal passes. He’s also good at long shots. With his right foot, he can either pass long balls or switch the play to his most advanced teammates.

 

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Kouassi’s ball distribution improves when he plays as center-back and he’s very good at moving play up the pitch.

 

To be skilled and dynamic when playing the ball is critical in order to play as a defender in a team like PSG, who are used to dominating ball possession in every game. Kouassi seems to be fitted to excel in these situations for a defender playing in such a team. Other than building up the play with quality and accuracy, he’s comfortable with defending up the pitch, he’s very strong in aerial duels (against Amiens, he scored two times following corner kicks), he’s strong in physical 1v1s and ready to anticipate the opponent with preventive marking, to win the ball back quickly and allow the team to remain in the opponent half.

That said, he’s not a mere aggressive defender that stands out when duelling with opponent forwards. In fact, he usually times his tackles very well, probably because he knows to be quick enough to recover or to reduce the gap with the opponent without leaving the line at once. Sometimes though, he’s too cautious and he gives the opponents too much freedom.

Against Amiens – despite scoring a wonderful brace – he struggled in stopping the opponent striker, Guirassy. In the play that led to the first goal, he left him running deep without following him, maybe hoping for his teammate Thiago Silva to pick him up. Also, a couple of times, he wasn’t able to prevent Guirassy from receiving the ball with his back to goal. For example, in the play that led to the 3-0 goal, when the Amiens’ striker was able to control Aleesami’s long kick, then passing back to Kakuta, which allowed the latter to launch Diabaté in the open space in PSG’s half.

Tuchel seems to have great faith in Kouassi, and after the game, he described his game as ‘superb’. But the defender’s future at PSG – even he was awarded as the best player of the club’s academy – is all but certain. He hasn’t signed his professional contract yet and this summer he could leave the club for free. RB Leipzig, a club whose mission is to sign the best young promising talents – such as Upamecano and Konaté – is following him closely. Maybe, a move to a less ambitious club that plays in a very different way than PSG could help him improve some undeveloped aspects of his talent.

 

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