Bought from Saint-Etienne for a reported €5 million, Algerian left back Faouzi Ghoulam represents a bit of an unknown. While there's been a bit of a youth renaissance in France in recent years, Ghoulam slipped under the radar a bit, likely due in part to having to being overshadowed by defensive wonderkid Kurt Zouma in Saint-Etienne's squad. He's still a very, very good young player in his own right, though, and Napoli may have just gotten themselves one heck of a steal.
Age: 23 (2/1/1991)
Height: 5'11" (1.81 meters)
Season So Far: 19 Appearances, 1 G, 4 A
Strengths: Ghoulam isn't a burner, but he's still fairly fast and possesses and excellent short-range burst. He positions himself very well, both in one on one situations (where he ably keeps his mark from cutting inside easily) and when defending off the ball (putting himself in spots to disrupt passing lanes and generate interceptions). Ghoulam is also quite good in the air, which is a nice bonus to have from a fullback, especially with how much Napoli has struggled on set piece defense this season.
Going forward, Ghoulam isn't the greatest crosser of the ball, but he gets forward well, overlaps with his winger, and is capable of finding paths for through balls to get it to his attackers. He also moves quite well with the ball; he's not especially tricky, but he has good enough footwork and know-how to get past his man on a dribble.
Weaknesses: Remember how I said Ghoulam isn't the greatest crosser of the ball? Well, that was a bit kind. Any of his passes or crosses that get much off the ground tend to be wildly inaccurate. He's also not the greatest tackler, and would do far better to stay on his feet to win the ball than to dive in.
Another issue is that Ghoulam sometimes gets too aggressive and gets caught too high up the pitch, unable to get back in time on a counter. For those of you suddenly terrified that Napoli have gotten themselves another Armero, rest assured that even at his worst, it didn't happen as frequently with Ghoulam as it did with the Colombian. It's also something that he's shown steady improvement in over the course of the season, so hopefully it won't be a problem in his game for a whole lot longer.
Summation: Ghoulam was a very smart buy for Napoli. Young enough to still improve a fair ways and be a long-term piece for the club, but experienced enough to provide an impact in the here and now. Given Napoli's myriad of issues at left back this season, it's very, very good to see the position addressed so well.
Even better is that his skillset fits in very well with the Italian style of play, and with how Rafa Benitez goes about things tactically. This couldn't have been a much smarter purchase if the club had tried.
For those in need of visual examples of what Ghoulam can do, here's a handy video of some of his highlights, including both offensive and defensive contributions. He's wearing 13, since it's not always clear which Saint-Etienne player he is in the video.
Source: EnjoyingNaples Youtube channel