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Marash Kumbulla may not yet be a household name but plenty of Europe’s elite are already tracking the 20-year-old.
The centre-back has impressed for Verona this season with I Gialloblu, surprisingly, sitting comfortably in eighth position in Serie A. Only three teams, the top three in the league, have conceded fewer goals than Ivan Jurić’s side (26), and the Italian-born Albania international has played a key part in that record.
According to reports, Verona expect to lose the 20-year-old when the transfer window opens. A fee in the region of €25million is believed to be required to convince the Serie A side to part ways with the 20-year-old.
Internazionale, Napoli, Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are all rumoured to be potential destinations for Kumbulla. Reports from Italy claim San Siro is likely where he’ll play his football next season. However, Antonio Conte’s men can’t compete financially with some of the other interested clubs which could be a clinching factor.
But why are so many sides queuing up to sign a player with just 18 Serie A appearances to his name? Statistically, he profiles well.
In terms of ground duels, he wins 56 per cent per 90. Aerially, he's even better, winning 65 per cent of the 4.68 duels he contests. He isn't, however, heavily involved in play, averaging a little over 50 touches (per 90).
However, of those 52 touches, 76 per cent are passes. Kumbulla is fairly proactive when in possession, often looking to keep play moving. His on-ball is ability is one of his biggest strengths and Kumbulla finds a team-mate with 84.2 per cent of his attempted passes.
In isolation, it might not seem like much given some centre-backs boast a whopping 90 per cent completion rate. Unlike those players, the Verona man is a risk-taker and this is apparent when looking at the proportion of passes he plays forward – almost 45 per cent.
If you think of the best centre-backs in the world today, not only are they dominant defensively, they also influence the attacking side of the game. Virgil Van Dijk‘s long, raking passes from his own defensive third are a staple of how Liverpool attack these days.
When Chelsea won the league under Conte, David Luiz's ability on the ball was key to their success while Pep Guardiola went about adding competent and confident ball-players to his defence after taking over at Manchester City.
Having a centre-back who can pick a pass is no longer just a luxury for teams, it is a necessity.
Kumbulla is highlighted in the image above. A loose pass in midfield allows him to aggressively intercept the ball in the middle third. In most instances, a centre-back would get to the ball first and punt it forward or out of play. But the Verona man doesn't. Instead, he gets there first, composes himself and shows no sign of being flustered – despite being immediately pressured by the opposition.
Kumbulla is fronted up and that area of the pitch looks congested. He weighs up his options before superbly playing an incisive pass into the feet of his team-mate. In one swift movement, he takes seven Lazio players out of the game and gets Verona onto the attack.
Despite his inexperience, he takes the lead and dictates play. No doubt clubs will see this as a positive and something to lean into.
Furthermore, Lazio are one of the most potent sides in Serie A. They're averaging 2.4 goals per 90 in the league this season yet Verona, with Kumbulla starring as a centre-back, held them to a 0-0 draw.
The 20-year-old looks the part. He passes the eye test and ticks the boxes statistically. The €25million fee seems steep but Arsenal parted with more to secure the services of William Saliba.
Kumbulla is by no means a bargain but given the market for centre-backs is rising with every passing transfer window, getting one with his potential, at that price, is shrewd business.