Wednesday, 18 June 2014

New Signing: Cheikhou Kouyaté

Cheikhou Kouyaté

DOB: 21/12/1989
Age: 24
Position: Defender/Midfielder

Previous Club: R.S.C. Anderlecht
Previous Division: Belgian Jupiler League

Transfer Date: 18/06/2014
Reported Fee: £7.2m

In a move that feels like it’s rumbled on for eternity, Cheikhou Kouyaté has finally completed his move to West Ham United from R.S.C. Anderlecht. The highly rated Senegal defender/midfielder joins for a reported fee of around £7.2m, and is the clubs second signing after the arrival of Mauro Zárate at the end of May.

So what do we know about the new arrival? A quick google search will tell you that both Arsenal and Liverpool were linked with the 24 year old just a few months back, and we know that Valencia were interested too. By all accounts, this is a bit of a coup for the Irons.

Though there is a belief that Kouyaté will play in defensive midfield for West Ham this season to allow Mark Noble to push forward a bit more, the Senegal international has played most of his football at centre back. With that in mind, we’ll take a look at Kouyaté’s performances in comparison to West Ham’s 2013/14 centre backs.

Unfortunately, we don’t have extensive stats on the Belgian league, so there is limited information on Kouyaté’s performances. However, we do have data on his Champions League appearances this season, so all data used here is based solely on Anderlecht’s Champions League run from 2013/14.

Firstly, the main difference between the new arrival and his new colleagues (and Roger Johnson) is that he has an exceptional pass success rate. Winston Reid was the best West Ham centre back in this area last season with a pass success rate of 76%. Kouyaté had a completion rate of 90%. He also attempted more passes per 90 minutes than any of West Ham’s defenders, with 32 passes beating second place Reid’s 28 per 90.

And what will certainly please a lot of Hammers is that Cheikhou did that with a long ball rate of just 12% - James Tomkins had the smallest long ball rate of our centre backs last season with 16%.

And that's not the only area where the Senegalese excels. Kouyaté won more tackles per 90 minutes, a higher % of aerial duels, and made more interceptions per 90 than any of his new colleagues, as shown below.

We've already touched upon Kouyaté's main strengths, but there's no harm in taking a closer look.

First up, a look at Kouyaté's duels in the Champions League this season. In his six appearances (of which Anderlecht lost 5 and drew 1, it should be mentioned), Kouyaté had a tackle success rate of 71% and a 91% headed duel success rate.

An example of some of his true capabilities can be seen by taking a look at his performance against Benfica in a 2-0 defeat back in September last year.

Kouyaté won 100% of his attempted tackles, 100% of his aerial duels, made 7 clearances and a remarkable 5 interceptions. All this despite his side slipping to a rather uninspired defeat.

The image below shows his heat map from that game. As you can see, he lines up on the right hand side of the defence, but is capable and comfortable to step forward into midfield when required.

As mentioned at the start of the article, there is a belief that Kouyaté may be joining the club as a midfielder first and centre back second. Should that be the case, he definitely has the capabilities to perform well in that role - this wouldn't be another case of Tomkins in centre midfield!

The image below shows Kouyaté's attempted passes from that game against Benfica. As you can see he hardly put a foot wrong, recording an unbelievable 98% pass completion (42/43). This ability to keep hold of possession is something that has been lacking from West Ham's midfield in recent times, and an addition like Kouyaté could make a huge impact upon our ball retention in the coming season. This, couple with his excellent tackling and interception stats, suggests that he could be just the man to partner Mark Noble for years to come.

All that remains to be said, is welcome to West Ham United, Cheikhou Kouyaté!