Kalidou Koulibaly red proves Europe's elite level is still beyond him

Kalidou Koulibaly Napoli
The Senegal international endured an afternoon to forget in Florence last weekend, and may well have sunk Napoli's title charge

COMMENT    By Solace Chukwu     Follow on Twitter

As far as swings go, it was the most brutal possible. It only takes a second to score a goal, and it only takes six minutes to decimate a city.

As Napoli host Torino this weekend, four points behind Juventus with three games remaining and the euphoria of their last-gasp win at the home of the champions a fortnight ago worn off, one wonders what thoughts will be playing across the mind of Kalidou Koulibaly.

A heaving, jiving Naples, drunk on hope and triumph, was brought back down to earth very quickly last weekend.

Who would have guessed, given Napoli's excellent away form, the humbling that would come at Artemio Franchi? And that it would be the Senegal international, whose header had so ruthlessly punished a negative Juventus the week before, that would prove the villain of the piece, getting sent off with the game only just beginning?

It was almost comically cruel.

Albiol Hysaj Fiorentina Napoli

In his absence, Maurizio Sarri's side duly capitulated, and while the manager himself could conceivably be criticized for his rejig after the event, it served to emphasize just how important Koulibaly is to the team that they simply crumpled.

The immediate concern, as Napoli no doubt seek to keep their fading hopes alive, will be how they cope against Torino without him. That will at least keep them within touching distance - just about - until Juventus travel to face Roma on the penultimate match day.

Kalidou Koulibaly | Serie A stats 2017-18

But, in the long term, what might it mean for Koulibaly?

Obviously, getting sent off for a professional foul oughtn't be terminal, seeing as the very nature of the foul connotes necessity. Still though, in that brief moment, there were enough questions raised about a player who has come on in leaps since joining from Genk.

Kalidou Koulibaly Fiorentina Napoli Serie A

To begin with, he gets his body position all wrong, which immediately puts him in trouble for the pass over the top. It might not have been much of a problem had he not then been outdone and by the pace of striker Giovanni Simeone and panicked.

If that seems rather persnickety, consider the breakneck speed at which the Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich was played. Now, more than ever, there is an emphasis at the top level on working the ball forward quickly, and attacking football is back in style.

The concomitant strain on defenders is great, and demands the ability to make decisions quickly.

Especially so for the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, two sides with whom Koulibaly has been linked, that play a high intensity style and press even farther up the pitch than Napoli do. Those split-second decisions may make all the difference.Kalidou Koulibaly Paulo Dybala Juventus Napoli Serie A

One might argue, even, that it would have been wiser to let Simeone onto the ball.

Article continues below

Having been caught out already, he might have let the Viola striker across him, and instead tried to use his superior strength to put him off his strike.

In the absolute worst-case scenario, Fiorentina might have taken an early lead (by no means a given, seeing as the foul happened on the edge of the area and it was not the easiest pass to take in stride); hardly final, considering Napoli's excellent away record and the full complement of 11.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but on such split-second decisions are elite level footballers judged. It is the sense of control, of calm in the eye of the storm, that is the hallmark of some of history's great defenders. Instead, in that moment of panic, Koulibaly may well have decided the only exciting title race in Europe's top five leagues.