Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain have been very solid in defence this season, especially in Ligue 1. They have conceded only 24 goals which is the joint second least goals conceded this season alongside Rennes, while David Guion’s Reims currently lead with only 21 goals conceded.
However, to play in Thomas Tuchel’s system, the centre-back must possess more than just defensive prowess and physicality, but also impeccable technique on the ball as well as superb game intelligence and tactical understanding. These attributes are certainly what this season’s debutant, Tanguy Kouassi possesses. Though not quite a polished player yet, the 2002-born centre-back has been highly impressive this season whenever he has gotten the opportunity to play. He certainly shows he’s already ready to play at a high level and he might well develop into a word-class centre-back in the future if nurtured properly.
With Abdou Diallo, Thilo Kehrer, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, and Presnel Kimpembe often missing out games due to injuries as well as struggling with fitness, Kouassi has been brought up to cover the hole. And having played extremely well lately, Tuchel decided to let him stay in the first-team and rotate with the regulars, giving him very much-needed game time and experience.
Kouassi is 1.87m (6’2”) tall with a lean body build. Overall, the young centre-back has decent strength and is usually able to use his body well to protect the ball if necessary. He can hold himself up in both ground and aerial duels against most players. However, stronger, bulkier players still give him a lot of trouble in physical duels.
Aside from that, Kouassi is not particularly quick over short range nor agile. He does seem to possess good pace once he reaches his top speed and he’s able to quickly cover ground due to his long strides. However, his slow acceleration and rather poor agility makes him quite vulnerable against explosive and agile opponents who are quick on the turn. This is why Kouassi tends to use his smart positioning and good anticipation to defend against these players which will be talked about in more detail later in this tactical analysis scout report.
Kouassi’s aerial prowess is particularly impressive and he has proven his proficiency in the air numerous times this season. Two out of his three senior goals this season are from headers. His height combined with jumping power helps him reach good vertical distance when leaping. To add to that, Kouassi has good positioning and anticipation. He knows where the ball is going to be, he knows where to position himself and when to jump. He is a bit aggressive when contesting for aerial balls which is certainly positive although there’s risk of conceding a foul. Nonetheless, he always focuses on getting his head on the ball and often wins the ball without conceding a foul.
Aside from his lack of explosiveness and agility, Kouassi has another weakness in his physical attributes: stamina.
Despite already possessing decent power and physical strength (which may grow even more in the future), Kouassi hasn’t yet particularly developed his endurance. This, of course, can be seen by his body language and tendencies in the game as well as a slight, but nevertheless, visible drop of performance late in the game.
As a centre-back, it’s a bit hard to spot his lack of stamina due to him not having to cover a lot of ground throughout the game and he doesn’t have to push forward and track back a lot in transitions. However, when playing as a defensive/central midfielder, his lack of stamina can be seen.
Usually if PSG lose the ball in an advanced area, the second line will push up to compress space and press instead of dropping deep. However, if the opposing team manages to escape the counter-press, the second line will have to quickly track back to recover. When playing as a defensive/central midfielder, Kouassi can be seen struggling to quickly track back to recover. He’d often opt to jog rather than sprinting with full-speed to get back into position which means either he’s trying to conserve stamina or he’s already out of breath. The same thing can also be seen in offensive transitions. Kouassi often seems to be reluctant to join the counter-attack and will opt to jog forward.
Kouassi is quite neat on the ball and distributes the ball well. The young talented centre-back has good control of the ball and shows calmness and confidence even under pressure. Though Kouassi would mainly look to not dwell on the ball and immediately move the ball after receiving it, he’ll look to drive forward with the ball before distributing it if given opportunity or if forced to do so. This can be seen in the two pictures below.
Above you can see that Kouassi received a pass from the left-back. Dijon looked to press with two players upfront with one staying close to the right-sided centre-back and one pressing Kouassi while putting the left-back in his cover shadow. The nearby central options were marked which means that progression through the middle would be more difficult and riskier.
Kouassi, of course, could play the ball long or loft it diagonally towards the right-back who sat high up the pitch. However, in this case, he chose to drive forward with the ball, exploiting the gap between the two pressing Dijon strikers. His progressive run attracted pressure from the first and second line of Dijon who aimed to compress space in the middle third. His progressive run and the reaction from Dijon allowed PSG players to occupy the space between the second and third lines of Dijon. From here, Kouassi could play a pass towards a player between the lines or exchange short passes with the central players and progress through middle.
Statistically, Kouassi averages only 0.77 progressive runs as well as 0.81 dribbles (82.4% success rate) this season which accurately represents his style and tendency as explained in this tactical analysis scout report. Despite his lack of agility as mentioned previously, Kouassi still possesses decent body balance and coordination which gives him the advantage on the ball, making him a tad bit more difficult to shrug off when in possession.
When it comes to distribution, Kouassi prefers playing short passes. This is why even when under pressure and with nearby options marked/blocked, Kouassi looks to drive forward to open up space and passing lanes instead of lofting the ball forward. This is also mainly due to PSG’s possession-based system where players are encouraged to exchange quick short-medium range passes as they work their way into the box rather than a direct approach even when under pressure.
Kouassi tends to progress the ball by playing it towards the flank where the nearest wide player (usually the full-back) can receive it instead of playing it centrally between the lines of the opposing team. This happens much more often when PSG are playing against teams with compact and narrow defence who don’t allow central progression. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that Kouassi is incapable of delivering accurate and perfectly-weighted passes between the lines.
Above you can see Kouassi delivering a pass towards a player sitting in a pocket of space between the second and third line of Amiens’ defence. In this situation, Kouassi received the ball from his left side and then turned to the right side, making himself look like he’s going to pass the ball towards the right-back who’s sitting in an abundance of space on the right flank. However, it was a disguise. Kouassi chose to play the ball into the right-winger who positioned himself in the pocket of space to receive the ball. You can see from the body orientation of the Amiens players that they were all anticipating a pass towards the wide player and were all looking to move their block towards the either side of the pitch.
This move shows that the player has not only game intelligence as well as good perception and awareness, but also bravery and confidence to execute a rather risky move that demands good technique.
Statistically, Kouassi records an average of 55.3 passes per game with 92.8% success rate which is pretty impressive. He also averages 18.21 progressive passes per game with 87.1% success rate. The high success rate, of course, is partly also due to his tendency to play short passes rather than long as mentioned before in this tactical analysis scout report. Understandably, Kouassi has a rather low average of long-passing attempts per game with only 1.77 with a rather low success rate of 48.6%.
Tactical tendencies in PSG and defensive prowess
Kouassi plays mainly as a centre-back in a ball-playing role. Sometimes he is also played as a defensive/central midfielder in a 4-4-2 system.
Above you can see Kouassi’s heatmap this season. Despite the aforementioned lack of stamina, Kouassi is still clearly a very active player, contributing a lot around the defensive and middle third. He contributes mainly defensively, but he does get involved in the build-up by helping the team combine and progress the ball. His creative contributions are rather limited though. This is due to his tendency not to take risks, but to give the ball towards more creative players instead and play it safe whenever he gets the ball. However, understandably, his coverage is rather limited, even as a defensive/central midfielder. The talented centre-back usually looks to stay in the middle third (when playing as a defensive/central midfielder) with a tendency to push up to press in defensive transition as well as drop even deeper when the opposing team is deep inside PSG’s half. Kouassi offers less flexibility and creativity when played as a defensive/central midfielder (unlike Marco Verratti or Leandro Paredes, for example) but offers excellent defensive solidity and good ball progression.
Above is an image when Kouassi played as a left-sided defensive midfielder in a 4-4-2 system in the Monaco vs PSG match in Ligue 1. As you can see, Kouassi sat rather high in the left half-space but still around the middle third.
This was because when the team was deep inside the opposing half, he’d tend to hold position around the middle third with the tendency to shift wide a little bit to offer support and create overload (if the ball was moved wide).
With a rather high positioning, he could also help recover the ball in defensive transition by pushing up and pressing or marking the nearby options as well as help his team recover and recycle possession after a failed attack in the final third before then restarting the attack as in the picture above.
Perhaps Kouassi’s main weakness in when playing as a defensive/central midfielder is his inability to play or combine in tight spaces. He seems to be lacking awareness of where his opponents are and how close/far are they from him, especially when he’s playing with his back facing the opposing goal. It’s not that Kouassi doesn’t scan before receiving. He does quickly look around him before receiving but he seems to not gather enough perception and information of his surroundings, rendering him unaware of opponents who sit in certain positions or distance from him.
As you can see above, Kouassi lost the ball right after receiving it. He was unaware that one Monaco player was coming at him from behind his back and his opponent managed to steal the ball away from him before he could comfortably control it.
This is quite understandable though as Kouassi is mainly played as a centre-back who usually orients his body forward and has good perception of the pitch rather than playing with his back facing the opposing goal. He may improve a lot in this area in the future though as he gains more experience and as he gets used to playing in that position.
What stands out the most in Kouassi’s game is his defensive prowess. Especially his intelligence, anticipation, and decision making in defence. Kouassi is not an aggressive ball-winner who loves to get stuck in and commit slide tackles. He prefers to stay on his feet when tackling rather than committing a slide tackle unless really necessary and there’s an opportunity to do so which is why his tackles are mostly clean and well-timed. He’s always alert and focused and rarely commits reckless and careless actions in defence. This is why he’s quite difficult to beat in 1v1 duels. He’s patient and keeps good distance to his opponent while steering him outside, tightening the space around him, closing his options, and forcing him to make a mistake. Once he sees an opportunity to steal the ball, then he will commit a tackle.
Aside from his ball-winning and 1v1 ability, Kouassi is also a smart marker. He’s good at keeping distance with his direct opponent and good at positioning himself to block a passing lane, once again showing his intelligence and defensive awareness.
Kouassi usually maintains a moderate distance with the player he’s supposed to mark. Not staying too close so that he doesn’t get beaten too easily on the turn due to his lack of agility and explosiveness as mentioned previously. But not too far either so that the opponent is not given too much space and freedom to move around. Once the ball is played towards the player he’s supposed to mark, then Kouassi will immediately close him down and press him. This usually surprises the ball-receiver and renders him to receive in an uncomfortable position.
Kouassi’s exceptional defensive intelligence and awareness can also be seen through his decision making.
In the picture above, for example, Kouassi initially marked and then immediately pressed Amiens striker, Serhou Guirassy, when the latter received the ball. However, he saw the space on the right flank and the right-back was nowhere to be found. If he kept on pressing and staying close to Guirassy, Amiens winger Fousseni Diabaté would then be able to receive a pass in an abundance of space and he could explode forward and potentially create a dangerous threat deep inside PSG’s half.
Guirassy then tried to deliver a through pass into space behind PSG’s defence but Kouassi was able to read it and intercept it before Diabaté could get his foot on the ball.
Kouassi is very young, yet already shows maturity beyond his years. The 2002-born centre-back is not quite fully-polished yet but he does show superb potential. He certainly has a very high ceiling and it will be very interesting to see where he’ll go from here. With Thiago Silva looking like he’s already in decline, Kouassi could be the perfect long-term replacement for PSG. That is, of course, if they can keep him in Paris for a while. He has been very impressive despite only playing in a few games in his debut season, but many big clubs from around Europe will certainly be paying close attention to him in the near future.