Manchester United and Chelsea are at a similar spot in terms of where their squads are and how far away they are from challenging for the Premier League; a few big signings could be the difference, and this summer is crucial.
Promising centre-back Jules Kounde has stood out at Sevilla and dropped a number of top performances since moving to the south of Spain. 90min understands Man Utd are seriously keen on him, although Chelsea are said to have joined the race according to new reports.
So we’ve analysed all the key components behind a potential transfer, and judged where he would best fit.
Should United sign him, it feels pretty clear that Kounde would be joining to form a partnership with £80m captain Harry Maguire. With that comes a lot of responsibility in forming a solid duo for a long-term title contender, but also a lot of guaranteed football.
Minutes would also likely be plentiful at Chelsea, although Kounde would be competing with a lot of defenders at a similar level. Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger, Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen are already on the books and enjoy a lot of playing time. And if they can convince a seriously talented Fikayo Tomori to stay at the club following a loan spell with AC Milan, that competition increases further.
The guarantees for minutes lie in Manchester.
Winner: Manchester United
Kounde has formed a partnership with Diego Carlos in a back four for Julien Lopategui’s Sevilla. And while Chelsea aren’t against starting with a back four under Thomas Tuchel, a three at the back system is often deployed. Kounde is of course good enough to adapt, and at 5ft10, has the height to suit playing in a back three.
Meanwhile, United very rarely move away from their back four these days. Kounde would slot in alongside Maguire, joined by regular full backs Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw in a familiar set up. Would it challenge his skills the same? No. But would it likely get more out of him and benefit all parties? Most probably.
The one sticking point is that a left-footed centre back is more ideal for United in order to allow the right-footed Maguire to return to the right side of defence. It’s not a deal breaker, though, considering Kounde is capable on either foot and can similarly play in either of the two central positions. The Red Devils edge this one – just.
Winner: Manchester United
No, we’re not trying to suggest that Kounde is some big time Sally who will rock up and expect a red carpet in front of him at all times. But developing a good relationship with the squad is vital, and that starts with understanding teammates.
Solskjaer has done a tremendous job of uniting the players at Manchester United and it finally feels like a team that is all tuned up to the same frequency once again after years of complete disconnection.
Tuchel has quickly done the same at Chelsea, however. The Blues’ defence also communicates in French, with Silva, Zouma and Edouard Mendy all speaking the language, as does captain Cesar Azpilicueta. Kounde – a Frenchman born and raised – would thus have a much easier time settling in there, rather than trying to make sense of a cluster of language surrounding him in United’s defensive setup.
Neither United or Chelsea are exactly short of money, let’s be honest.
However, the Red Devils’ recent club restructuring and new recruitment policy suggests they won’t be quite as keen to throw money around like it’s water anymore, considering how that went when signing Alexis Sanchez and plenty of others before him.
Chelsea, meanwhile, aren’t afraid to flex their financial strength. Last summer’s spending spree showed that and the constant links to the likes of Erling Haaland and Sergio Aguero continue it. If Kounde wants a more lavish contract while living in London, Chelsea is most definitely the way to go.
United won’t exactly be paying him by the hour, but there would likely be a touch of reluctance compared to the Blues.
Chelsea should be challenging for the Premier League with the squad they have and the money they’ve spent. And next season – with Tuchel in charge – it would be bitterly disappointing if they still weren’t. But for all of Chelsea’s success, it is often very explosive and can unravel quickly with the way they chop and change managers.
United, for the first time in a long while, look like a club with a more sustainable project with a more considered flight path to build a side that can regularly compete for years to come. Again, it’s a big ‘if’ but Kounde could easily be one of the key pieces of the jigsaw in making that a reality at Old Trafford.
Winner: Manchester United
Moving to one top side over the other is unlikely to prove calamitous for Kounde, who is destined to be a top defender regardless.
However, a transfer to United better suits him at this stage of his career. He would be the perfect fit in a side looking to compete but also give younger players a chance. Sure, Chelsea arguably have a better squad and a more experienced manager, but it guarantees no sustainability and he could be in the dreaded loan cycle quicker than he’s bought a house in London.
Consider also that United have clearly been keen on him for a while and would love him at the club, it makes more sense for the Frenchman to move to Old Trafford in summer.