Analysis: What powerful, athletic French national team centre back Axel Disasi is bringing to Chelsea

August 2nd, 2023 by Olasunkanmi Ibikunle

With Wesley Fofana once again sidelined for what looks to be a large chunk of the season after rupturing cruciate ligaments in pre-season, Chelsea’s seemingly incessant recruitment drive has led them to France and Monaco star Axel Disasi.

Despite the lingering threat of Financial Fair Play regulations hovering ominously in the shadows, the Blues have agreed a £40million deal with the Ligue 1 outfit, which could take their summer spending up to nearly £150m.

Having arrived at Monaco in 2020 for £12m, the defender has seen his career move from strength to strength, powering his way to the vice-captaincy at the Stade Louis-II and impressively making the cut for Didier Deschamps’ French squad for the Qatar World Cup.

Disasi will compete with compatriots Fofana and former Monaco partner Benoit Badiashile in west London, as well as the veteran Thiago Silva and the impressive young talent Levi Colwill, but what does the 6ft 3in defender bring to the Blues to warrant such a fee?

Here, Mail Sport takes you through the 25-year-old’s strengths and weaknesses, as he draws closer to a sensational £40m switch to Chelsea.

Disasi may be heading for Stamford Bridge, but Chelsea were by no means the only Premier League side interested in his services this summer.

With Champions League football on the horizon, the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle were all heavily linked with a move for the centre back, although they ultimately lost the race. And there is plenty of reason why he emerged as the latest in a long line of French central defenders to get Europe’s elite reaching for their cheque books.

Since making his professional debut in 2016 he has been highly sought-after. Reims picked him up from Paris FC the same season he made his first appearance, before he moved to Monaco in 2020, amid heavy Premier League links, with the Gunners particularly interested at the time.

At first glance, what you see is very much what you get with Disasi. Topping 1.9m tall and packed with the type of muscle you’d expect to see coming out on top in a Royal Rumble, the 25-year-old is imposing, powerful and athletic.

By his own admission, his size is a crucial part of his game, allowing him to assert dominance in the air and provide a daunting opponent one-on-one, confident in the tackle and physically well-suited to the demands of the Premier League.

But there is more to his game than that. Disasi may have the frame of a back row powerhouse in rugby, but he has surprisingly deft feet and the confidence to match, regularly bringing the ball out from the back under pressure in Ligue 1.

He is quick, too, which makes him a good option for Pochettino as he looks to provide some defence against the lightning quick attacks of competitors Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City and United.

With the more mobile options of Badiashile and Fofana both injured, a soon-to-turn 39-year-old Silva’s biggest assets lie firmly in his leadership and experience, so pace at the back is very much a key trait for the Blues’ defensive scouting.

And once he does catch his opponents, Disasi has proven himself to be a brilliant tackler, willing to put his foot in and often timing his challenge to good effect, as evidence by his genuinely impressive yellow card tally of just three in 38 Ligue games last term.

Of Chelsea’s rivals, centre backs Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk, Ruben Dias and Joe Gomez all also managed a tally of just three, though all played fewer games, with Van Dijk – renowned for his composure and anticipation at the back – closest with 32 appearances.

Then there is Disasi’s somewhat surprising attacking output, scoring six goals last season and contributing three assists from central defence – and they weren’t just storming headers from inside the penalty area.

One in particular springs to mind; with Monaco being held 2-2 away to Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League back in February, the captain on the night took it upon himself to fire the French side to an unlikely victory. Letting fly from around 30 yards out, he unleashed a wonderful dipping, swerving right-footed strike into the bottom corner in the 92nd minute of the game.

And that brings us on to another positive in Disasi’s favour – leadership. With over 30 players currently in the Chelsea squad, Pochettino needs leaders in the ranks to pull their team-mates in the same direction, and who can pick them up when things aren’t quite going to plan.

At times last term we saw a Chelsea side with little chemistry and operating on far too many wavelengths to generate fluency and bring the best out of an undeniably talented squad. Cesar Azpilicueta and Mason Mount have now left the club, but Disasi could find himself in an influential role at Chelsea very quickly.

Yes, Disasi has found a way into the France squad, one of the most competitive sides in the world at the moment, but at the World Cup his only start came in Les Bleus’ 1-0 defeat to Tunisia. He managed just seven more minutes in the tournament and six of those came in the defeat to Argentina on penalties in the final.

An argument can also be made that when replacing Presnel Kimpembe he made the squad as a right back, rather than at the heart of defence, as the third choice behind Benjamin Pavard and Jules Kounde. He is the archetypal Deschamps full back – that is to say, a big centre back that possesses a bit of pace – and perhaps did not make the 26-man squad with a role in the middle in mind.

That pace is key to his defensive recovery play, much like Van Dijk won widespread praise for his ability to get back and put in a last-ditch tackle, but he can be a little too willing to dive in at times, and against more wily and canny attackers in the Premier League he could be drawn into fouls more often.

He can look ungainly on the ball at times, too. Disasi has good feet, and can pick a pass, but his imposing size make him oddly inelegant turning on the spot, with a cumbersome turning circle that might see him found out against the likes of Mohamed Salah, Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford, some of the division’s most slippery customers.

Harry Maguire made a name for himself bringing the ball out from the back first at Hull and latterly at Leicester, but was found out at the highest level with Manchester United for his lack of balance and agility in transition, and there are fears that the same could be said for Disasi in the Premier League.

Ultimately, there are far more positives in the Frenchman’s favour to outweigh the negatives. The player had no role in deciding his fee, and it is likely that Chelsea’s trigger-happy approach in the last 12 months did most of the heavy lifting in raising the price in negotiations.

Disasi possesses all the attributes of a successful modern centre back with pace and passing ability that belies his huge frame, and is a proper physical presence both in the air and on the ground, with brilliant timing in the tackle and an eye for goal to boot. To even be near to the France squad is an impressive enough achievement given the ludicrous strength in depth Deschamps possesses.

There are concerns over his agility, but with Silva playing alongside him in a slightly deeper role, picking up the second ball from the breakdown and sweeping up any stray long balls in behind, he will likely have that particular weakness covered.

Perhaps the most crucial developmental stages of his career are behind him, but the player is already starting to outgrow Ligue 1 and looks destined to play Premier League football, and it’s not as if he has reached his maximum potential – learning even more about his craft alongside Pochettino and one of the best to ever play at centre back in Silva is hardly likely to yield no tangible gain at all.

At £40m, Chelsea are set to pick up a player at almost half the price they paid for Fofana, who has no real injury history to speak of, has proven himself a leader already at 25, and looks to be someone willing to roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty. That seems a decent price, all told.

Courtesy: The Daily Mail

Photo Credit: AS_Monaco/X twitter

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