Nicolas N'Koulou made his 100th appearance for Marseille on Wednesday night against Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League, and we've chosen him to open our new series on scouting potential Premier League targets.
The Cameroon international has accrued 36 caps for his country and quite the reputation for himself over the course of his short career along with them, so we're here to give you the lowdown on one of Ligue 1's most prominent defenders.
It's fair to say that, while N'Koulou holds a strong reputation in European football, he's enduring a poor season by his standards so far.
His opening six Ligue 1 games have been littered with mistakes, with the home loss to Claudio Ranieri's Monaco in September a case in point for those concerned.
He missed a near-post clearance for Radamel Falcao's equaliser after a low cross had been fizzed in, then set Emmanuel Riviere through on goal for the winner when actually attempting to cut out a through ball from Joao Moutinho.
This is not the real N'Koulou, and the version fans have come to know, admire and adore is the one who was a staple in L'OM's brilliant defence last season.
Elie Baup's men conceded just 36 goals—good for the second-best record in the league, two behind Saint-Etienne—and finished second in the Ligue 1 table.
What's thrown him off? Sky Sports confirmed he was prepared to leave the club this summer, with Tottenham, Arsenal and former club Monaco linked strongly. Whatever the issue, he needs to recover quickly.
The N'Koulou of old boasted an immense physical presence, combining decent power and strength with incredible pace and speed.
He's not the tallest, not by a long shot, but he's serviceable in the air and plays a stopper-sweeper combination alongside a taller, more bruising centre-back extremely well.
His cameos at right-back have allowed him to keep his extreme quickness, while his appearances in holding midfield have cultured him in terms of calmness on the ball and picking passes.
On form, he's the ball-playing centre-back everyone is looking for, with the athleticism to play a very high line given his ability to match strikers stride for stride.
Positionally he is a little hit and miss, but that's to be expected of a 23-year-old—they make mistakes. He tends to play more assuredly next to Souleymane Diawara, an experienced head, than Lucas Mendes (also 23).
We've picked out one of his finest moments in Marseille's tussle with Arsenal, and by all accounts N'Koulou dealt with in-form Olivier Giroud quite well over the course of the evening.
He and Mendes guarded the space in front of the back four efficiently and passed Giroud on as a marker seamlessly throughout.
N'Koulou is a €10 million player at this moment in time given his rock-bottom form, but when on top of his game he's nearer the €15 million mark.
It's difficult to tell if he's going to improve any time soon, as Baup's defensive pairing tends to come under a lot of pressure due to their team's haphazard set of full-backs; Rod Fanni and Jeremy Morel are accidents waiting to happen.
His showings this season would usually be enough to put off plenty of suitors, but given Dejan Lovren's resurgence in the Premier League at Southampton, there will be English suitors looking at Ligue 1 with serious interest over the next 12 months.
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