• Conor O Donoghue


It was the middle of August when Manchester United faced Spanish side Sevilla in the Europa League semi-finals in an empty stadium in Cologne, Germany.

United went on to lose the game 2-1 to Sevilla, who went on to win the whole competition. The game was of particular annoyance to United fans because of an ongoing problem with the central defence.

United took the lead but would lose the tie after bad defending from Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire allowed Luuk de Jong to score from a Jesus Navas cross with 12 minutes left. Bruno Fernandes confronted Victor Lindelof in the aftermath and made his feelings known.

Manchester United fans quickly forgot about the game but one player caught the attention of many Manchester United fans, this player has gone from strength to strength since that day.

This player is French centre-back Jules Koundé. Kounde isn't a giant when it comes to your stereotypical centre-back, he's 5’10”. But his confidence and composure on the ball is a familiar staple of the modern-day centre back.

Footballers like John Stones, Harry Maguire and Virgil van Dijk are all comfortable with the ball on the floor. Kounde is no different. It's not a coincidence that Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Barcelona have been the most prominent clubs in for the 22-year-old.

There isn't a country in the world that can match the French central defensive production line that produces players like Aymeric Laporte, Dayot Upamecano, Raphaël Varane and others like Ibrahim Konate, to name just a few.

Kounde, despite being 5’10” is a commanding presence in the box and an aerially dominant defender, despite not being a 6ft centre-back. He relies on his superb reading of the game and positional sense rather than physical attributes.

Jules Kounde is a risk-averse defender who chooses to use his brain instead of being another aggressive front foot defender. He is very similar to Virgil van Dijk regarding how carefree and effortless he makes it look.

Kounde's conservatism allows him to slow down and force his opponents into making mistakes by closing down the angles. He will rarely go to ground when facing an opponent. There isn't an U-23 centre-back, which you can compare to van Dijk in terms of style and quality like you can do with Koundé.

One of his best attributes is his positional play. His reading of the flight of the ball and the spring in his accent combine to compensate for his lack of presence in the air.

When you watch endless Youtube compilations labelled "Jules Kounde 2021 - Crazy Defensive Skills & Goals | HD", you’'ll notice how many times he will head the ball away in his box, at times he is a one-person defence. It's not hard to see why Europe's biggest clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona have all kept tabs on Kounde this season. The Frenchman has been touted by many as Real Madrid's replacement for veteran Sergio Ramos, who is rumoured to be leaving Los Blancos this summer.

Kounde has completed 18 dribbles to Ramos's four, 1264 passes to Ramos's 1057, and even has won 178 defensive duels compared to the Real Madrid man. He beats Ramos in every metric, but that could be down to more minutes played in favour of Kounde.

Kounde and Diego Carlos have formed a formidable partnership at the heart of the Sevilla's backline. Former Spanish manager, Julen Lopetegui has guided the Rojiblancos to 4th place in the league and is mostly down to the duo’s partnership.

Sevilla and Kounde have only conceded 16 goals in the league this season, a record only bettered by Atletico Madrid's 13, this is not surprising to anyone who watches football.

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjær Manchester United usually play in a 4-2-3-1 system. Kounde under Lopetegui had played in this system before, most notably in the 2-0 Copa Del Rey victory over Barcelona where Kounde scored a goal Messi would have been proud to see.

Seville-based scout Kevoni said:

"I think the sky's the limit for Koundé could genuinely become one of the best centre-halves of his generation if he keeps working, although there will always be critics pointing to his lack of height for a centre-half [he stands at 1.84m].

“Koundé's desire to improve, strong mentality and incredible jumping reach more than makes up for his perceived lack of height. Despite France's strength at centre-half, I believe he can become an international regular if he keeps working and stays grounded".

Manchester United needs to sort out their centre-back partnership if they hope to win a league again. Harry Maguire is not an A centre-back. He is not the centre-back that leads; he is the centre-back and follows someone else.

Maguire needs his version of Virgil van Dijk to compensate for his lack of mobility. Kounde could be a suitable choice due to his elite positional awareness, making everything so much easier than it could be.

Manchester City are rumoured to have lodged a bid for the defender last summer but were knocked back by Sevilla. The club felt £55m was too little and it has proven to be right. Kounde's price has only gone up this year. Fans at Old Trafford will hope Kounde picks the north-west of Manchester this time.