From the Athletic today. Great article IMO but I'm obvy very biased.
“Fearless” and “courageous” was how Thomas Tuchel recently described Moise Kean, effusive praise for a player who has taken to life at Paris Saint-Germain like a duck to water.
Since arriving on loan from Everton late in the summer window, Kean has scored five times in his first seven appearances. There have been goals against admittedly weaker domestic opposition such as Ligue 1’s bottom club Dijon, but also two in the Champions League and a superb all-round display against an RB Leipzig side starring much-lauded centre-back Dayot Upamecano, all of which has been enough to suggest he is more than just a flat-track bully.
If all of this appears to paint a picture of a player who has not only slotted in seamlessly at the Parc des Princes but is now also in the form of his life, that’s because both statements probably ring true.
Kean is a markedly different player right now to the one seen in his first 14 months with Everton. More confident, more composed. Crucially, more settled.
The now 20-year-old did not hit the ground running at Goodison — he started just six Premier League games last season — but this loan does represent a departure from the original plan for his development.
In different circumstances, the Italy international would have initially found himself warming the bench, providing back-up to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and gradually getting more minutes as the season progressed.
The only way he was going to be allowed to leave was if he pushed to go, and when PSG came to the table he did just that. His agent, Mino Raiola, has close connections at both clubs and brokered a deal that was intended to work for all parties. PSG would get the new striker they craved on a relatively tight budget, Kean has the chance for a fresh start and Everton stood a chance of welcoming back a revitalised player next season.
“The current situation, the one PSG found themselves in economically while losing the likes of Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva, meant they were always looking a special case,” says Jonathan Johnson, a Paris-based European football reporter for CBS Sports, and ESPN’s former PSG correspondent.
“They’ve struggled massively with injuries since the restart. Mauro Icardi has been out with a knee problem since early October, and PSG have struggled to get the best out of him in terms of form and fitness since the turn of the year. They were looking for someone with a lot of versatility across the attacking positions. I was surprised in as much as it was a name I didn’t expect but, under sporting director Leonardo, PSG have always been good at identifying talented players from Italy. Kean fits the profile and was better than the majority of options towards the end of the window.”
Despite reports from France, no purchase option was agreed — a departure from the serial French champions’ usual policy. “There is no option to buy,” reiterated Leonardo recently. “In England, things are a bit different. In any case, if there had been one, it would have been huge. Numbers mean little, we would have had to negotiate anyway.”
In hindsight, it already looks as if Everton got the better end of the deal. They know they have a valuable asset on their hands they can either further develop or cash in on for a tidy sum, and have placed a prohibitive valuation on Kean. Nor were they prepared to totally cut their losses just yet. Having paid Juventus an initial £25 million for his services, the bidding was always going to start in that region. Too much for PSG, at this time. Carlo Ancelotti has already said the striker will “be back” in his Everton squad next season.
It is a state of affairs that could end up undermining PSG if Kean continues on this steep upward curve.
There has been a marked change since his early displays in Paris, where he was building up the confidence that had so clearly dissipated at Goodison. Thrown in at the deep end — his second appearance was against Manchester United in the Champions League — his third outing for his new side proved pivotal as he scored twice against Dijon. He has not looked back, and at this rate, the asking price will continue to go up.
“People have been pleasantly surprised,” says Johnson. “He’s hit the ground running and has handled himself very well. He’s been reliable in attack at a time when they’ve been losing players and seems to be enjoying a new lease of life.
“He looked quite short of confidence at first, but it helped to have that match against Dijon early on. He probably needed that immediate boost to reach the level of confidence he has now.”
In the continuing absence of Icardi, Kean has flourished in his favoured role at the point of the attack. He is profiting from a vastly superior supply line to the one he was afforded last season and tweaks to his role that have allowed a focus on finding space around the opposition penalty area.
According to sports data analysts Twenty3 for league games, Kean’s overall defensive actions per 90 minutes are down from last season’s total of 4.8 at Everton to 4.2, in part due to PSG’s dominance of most Ligue 1 games, and his ball recoveries per 90 have also fallen from 2.1 to 1.3. He is less involved in build-up play on the whole than he was at Goodison, receiving close to two passes per game fewer in the league than he did last season, and is attempting fewer passes in the final third too (down from 0.94 on average per game to 0.65).
The below heat map shows the extent to which Kean’s involvement is now concentrated on attacking the penalty spot.
Even though he is less involved in the build-up, the graphic below highlights how his team-mates are finding him in better positions, with most of his receptions coming at the end of moves.
And this one shows he is now getting a higher volume of good chances close to goal than last season at Everton — again, not a huge surprise given the abundance of quality in the PSG squad.
In league competition, also according to Twenty3, Kean’s non-dead ball expected goals (per 90) is up from 0.3 last season to 0.8.
As his confidence has improved, so too has his finishing. His latest goal, in the 3-0 win over Rennes last Saturday, was a driven effort from outside the box that hinted at the kind of ability which made him one of Italy’s top young talents.https://twitter.com/btsportfootball/status/1325172082112663553
“He is the focal point of the attack and hasn’t shied away from the challenge,” says Johnson. “Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet against Leipzig, he was very impressive. He’s prepared to do what some of the other guys don’t do so much. Kean has shown himself willing to sacrifice for the team, but he’s also finding himself in good positions.”
That was particularly evident in that Leipzig game, a 2-1 away defeat that PSG ended with nine men after two red cards. But Kean caused Upamecano endless problems with his direct running into the channels.
“Look at the stuff he is trying at the moment,” Johnson continues. “Against Rennes, he went on a burst from inside his own half where eventually he ran out of gas, but that kind of confidence was not in his locker when he arrived. It’s not only his goal return — it’s also the way he is linking with those around him.
“He’s made a very good impression with the staff and fans. People have largely forgotten his struggles at Everton because of how he’s started.”
Kean’s issues at Everton were not just confined to the pitch. Off it, he was forced to apologise internally after flouting lockdown rules earlier this year, something club officials decided to draw a line under, in part because it was felt that it was out of character.
While some, including team-mate Yannick Bolasie, suggested Kean’s potential was always clear from his displays at Finch Farm — “he’s the same guy (now) I saw in training. Playing three, four games in a row helps any player, ability is key but confidence is not something you can turn on and off,” Bolasie recently told The Athletic after news of Kean’s latest star turn — there was a feeling elsewhere that he hadn’t done enough to convince regularly and that certain parts of his game required more work.
Kean was never Marco Silva’s man. Everton’s then-manager was asking for an experienced, target man type of striker that summer. Kean did not easily fit into how Silva was attempting to get the team to play and was forced to play wide at times.
Before his sacking in December, Silva was even in the process of sounding out Brands over a potential move for Eintracht Frankfurt’s Goncalo Paciencia — another client of the Pro Eleven agency that represents the Everton manager — such was his belief that his side needed more experience up front. Brands’ preference, however, was to stick with what Everton had, but that approach did not lead to more minutes for Kean.
A French speaker through his family’s roots in the Ivory Coast, where it is the official language from colonial times, Kean was taking extra English classes to help with his integration on Merseyside. It has all helped him adapt quickly to life in Paris, where he is happy and settled.
“He speaks French but what will really help him is that there are Italian speakers in the PSG squad — familiar faces and voices,” says Johnson. “The similarities with Angel Di Maria interest me. Di Maria never settled in England (during a 2014-15 season with Manchester United) and came to Paris and joined a group of players more in line with what he was used to, a mix of cultures. Kean feels more at home at this club and with this squad, having come from Juventus.”
Fellow forwards Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have been positive influences already.
“The adaptation has gone very well, because I’ve been made very welcome,” Kean said recently. “We’re a young group, a group of champions and we get on very well. I am here to learn, because it’s an advantage to be with Mbappe and Neymar. The coach is very good, the staff are fantastic. So I think that’s what helps me bring all my ability to the pitch. I feel that I can do good things here.”
“A big heart, intensity. He does what is necessary,” Tuchel said recently of his new charge. “At the moment, I wouldn’t want to be a defender against him, because he is really tough. It’s very important for us because, in certain moments, we missed that.”
Others have already drawn parallels with PSG legend and record goalscorer Edinson Cavani, who has recently moved on to Manchester United as a free agent.
“Kean is the right pick at the moment for PSG,” former PSG player Eric Rabesandratana told France Bleu radio. “I like his mentality. He has a taste for effort, he is collective. He always offers solutions to his partners. When the ball is lost, he begins to defend.
“He is the team’s first defender, and he reminds me of Cavani in this regard. He is on the same path as Cavani for his career. I wish him to score as many goals as Cavani did.”
Kean’s next task will be fending off PSG’s returning stars for a regular starting place. To do so, he will need to continue the stellar form that has made him the talk of the French capital.
“Kean is really not that far from being one of Tuchel’s first-choice four,” Johnson says. Already, there has been talk of what PSG can do to keep Kean. Without that option to buy, the ball is very much in Everton’s court, even if Kean is showing signs of already being settled in Paris.
Everton expect him to remain at Parc des Princes for the remainder of the season, after which talks will resume over his future. The irony for PSG is clear: the better Kean does, the harder it will be for them to convert his loan into a permanent deal.
“It will depend on the situation with COVID-19 and how soon PSG can get fans back to the stadium,” says Johnson. “Without that, PSG will continue to struggle financially. They’re already counting their losses because of the impact of COVID and I don’t think it sounds too positive in terms of paying a big fee to keep him.
“It’ll help that PSG have long-standing relations with Raiola but if Kean continues to impress in the Champions League, his value will continue to rocket.”