While Leeds United remain in the hunt for a surprise European place for next season, attentions already seem to be turning towards how the Premier League side can strengthen ahead of the new campaign.
Reports in recent days have suggested that Marcelo Bielsa’s side have earmarked Torino centre-back Nicolas Nkoulou as a possible new addition, with the Cameroon international’s contract at the Serie A club coming to an end this summer and thus being available to join on a free transfer.
Bielsa may feel that Nkoulou could form a centre-back partnership alongside summer signing Diego Llorente, whose debut campaign in English football at Elland Road has been severely restricted by injuries – he’s only managed a measly three appearances in the Premier League.
Given the money they spent on Llorente, there’s no questioning that if he does get his fitness back, Bielsa will be keen to get him into the starting line-up.
And in Nkoulou, he could find him the perfect partner. The 6 foot powerhouse has got a tonne of experience playing for the likes of Torino, Monaco and Lyon, whilst it was at Marseille that he played under Bielsa himself.
He played 26 games in all competitions for the Argentine back in the one season that the duo were at the Stade Veledrome, with Nkoulou a permanent fixture in the starting line-up when fit – the only games he missed were as a result of suspension, injury and being involved at the African Cup of Nations.
In that 2014/2015 season, Nkoulou proved he’s the ultimate Bielsa centre-back, being superb at reading the game and being aggressive, and having a fine ability to play out from the back.
The Cameroonian arguably played the best football of his career under Bielsa, with his defensive numbers from that campaign really telling the full story.
As per Whoscored, he managed a career-high 3.3 interceptions per game in Ligue 1, while in only his first two seasons of professional football did he make more than the 2.1 tackles per match that he recorded in that 2014/2015 campaign – to compare that to Leeds’ players right now, no-one can match those interception numbers, while only four others have made more tackles.
But, not only was he a defensive stalwart, but Nkoulou also looked assured with the ball at his feet. He averaged a 90.8% pass accuracy and 48 total passes per game, which are both significantly higher than his career average.
The defender played his best football under Bielsa, and so the Leeds boss will be fairly confident that he could get the best out of him once again at Elland Road. And that could see him partner Llorente come the start of next season.