Chelsea confirmed the signing of 25-year-old Axel Disasi – the defender joining from Ligue 1 side AS Monaco in a deal worth up to £38.8 million on a six-year-contract.
After Kalidou Koulibaly’s departure to Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal, and with veteran Thiago Silva 39 in September, a move to bolster depth at centre-back can be considered a smart and shrewd acquisition in the market.
Additionally, Wesley Fofana has been ruled out for months to come with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, whereas his compatriot Benoit Badiashile is also recovering from an injury himself and will miss the start of the 2023/24 Premier League season.
With over 200 senior appearances to his name to date, including caps for France’s senior national side at the World Cup, Disasi offers the perfect mix of experience in a young squad combined with potential to fulfil, and joins the French contingent at Stamford Bridge including the likes of Malo Gusto, Christopher Nkunku and Lesley Ugochukwu, amongst others.
What has been Disasi’s career trajectory to date, and what attributes can he add to a Chelsea side in transition under Mauricio Pochettino next season?
Career to Date
After years at local sides Villiers-le-Bel JS and USM Senlis, Disasi joined Paris FC aged 16, progressing through the youth academy and making his senior debut in December 2015 aged 17, scoring his first senior goal the following month in a 1-3 defeat to Tours FC in Ligue 2. His strong defensive acumen and versatility to fill in at either centre or right-back saw the youngster snapped up by Reims in the summer of 2016, linking up with Les Rouges et Blancs youth setup.
Disasi featured just once for the Reims senior side across the 2016/17 season in Ligue 2, although was a stalwart for the reserves – playing the full 90 in 21 of 28 available games. His involvement with the first team in the 2017/18 season grew to 13 appearances, frequently deputising at left-back, as Reims won Ligue 2 with 88 points – 15 more than second-placed Nimes, conceding just 24 goals, the lowest in the division by 10, with ex-Blue Edouard Mendy between the sticks.
Disasi struggled for game time the following campaign, although did play the full 90 in the 3-1 win over PSG on the final game of the season, as Reims had an impressive season on their return to the French top flight – finishing 8th, 11 points off Europa League qualification.
The 2019/20 campaign was a real step-up for Disasi, aged just 21, the centre-back missed just one of 28 available league games before the Ligue 1 campaign was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Reims qualifying for the Europa League second qualifying round via their 6th placed league finish. Disasi cemented his place at centre-back, and also played every minute in the Coupe de la Ligue as Reims were eliminated by PSG in the semi-finals.
This excellent form saw AS Monaco spend £11 million in the summer of 2020 to acquire Disasi – the defender lining up in defence with Badiashile, who joined Chelsea in January and had an excellent remainder of the 2022/23 season at Stamford Bridge during a turbulent time at the club both on and off the pitch.
Disasi featured in 29 of 38 available league games in his debut season with Monaco, scoring three goals and also captaining Le Rocher on six occasions. Monaco had an excellent league season – finishing 3rd with 78 points, their highest league finish since 2018, with Disasi playing an integral role in this success, contributing to wins home and away over PSG, whilst Monaco lost to the likes of Stade Brestois and Strasbourg with the defender suspended or unavailable.
Disasi’s partnership with Badiashile continued to flourish into the 21/22 campaign as Monaco recorded a second consecutive 3rd-placed finish – Disasi increased his involvement with the first-team to 32 league games (captain on eight occasions), and also featured in the Champions League qualifying round as Monaco lost to Shakhtar Donetsk after extra-time.
This superb form saw Disasi called up to the France’s senior squad for the first team ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, replacing the injured Presnel Kimpembe in the 26-man list. The defender featured in 92 minutes across the competition as Les Bleus lost in the final to Argentina, including the full 90 at right-back in the 1-0 defeat to Tunisia. This coincided with a very strong 2022/23 season – Disasi was the only outfield Monaco player to appear in all 38 league games, with only two outfielders league-wide picking up more minutes.
Disasi also built on his European experience – playing in every minute available (750) of the Europa League as Monaco lost to Bayer Leverkusen on penalties in the Round of 32, scoring in wins over Leverkusen in the first-leg, and Trabzonspor in Group H.
This wealth of experience domestically, internationally and continentally saw Disasi linked with Manchester United in June this year, before Chelsea wrapped up a deal for the 25-year-old.
The defender said upon his arrival: “It’s a club that has been very popular for French players because they have all done well here – Leboeuf, Desailly, Anelka, Kante, Giroud… And the colour is blue like the national team! It’s good.”
Style of Play
Despite featuring at both right and left-back earlier in this career, Disasi has established himself as a right-sided centre back – representing the profile of a ‘modern’ centre-back, assured and confident whilst playing out from the back and in possession, whilst also physically commanding and assertive at 6’3 tall. Perhaps the best trait Disasi can bring to the Chelsea squad is his availability – with Fofana particularly injury-prone and the need to manage Thiago Silva’s minutes next season.
With Monaco primarily setting-up with a 4-4-2 under Philippe Clement last season, Disasi saw the bulk of his minutes at right centre-back, although also occasionally slotted in at right-centre-back in a back three, reflected in his Ligue 1 heat-map for last season.
As you can see via the spot in the opposition box, Disasi is also a goal threat offensively – his 0.11 goals per 90 ranks in the top seven percent for European centre-backs, whilst his 51 touches in the opponents box last season was the highest in Ligue 1 for central defenders.
With Pochettino’s tactical approach built around the centre-back’s ability to receive the ball from the keeper and pick out long-range passes to the attackers (including full-backs) in offensive areas, Disasi’s advanced passing statistics align very nicely with this philosophy.
When compared to other centre-backs in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues over the last 365 days, Disasi ranks in the top 5 percent for both progressive passes and passes into the final third, with 5.80 per 90 for both. Compared to Trevoh Chalobah, this is an upgrade of 2.15 and 2.33, respectively. In fact, his 340 passes into the final third last season was his highest for centre-backs in Ligue 1 last season. Disasi is also excellent at driving forward with the ball from deep in a style similar to Antonio Rudiger and John Stones – his 1.7 progressive carries per 90 ranking in the top five per cent for European defenders.
Within the Monaco squad last season, Disasi’s passing abilities also looks fantastic – he ranked first for accurate passes per game (42.3), and second behind Badiashile for accurate long balls per game (3.9), with Badiashile departing in January and only featuring in 11 Ligue 1 games.
Combined with prowess and poise when picking out passes and launching attacks, Disasi is also more than happy to get involved in the ‘nitty gritty’ of defensive work and stamp out opposition attacks – he is physically strong and excellent in aerial duels (winning 68.5 percent, ranking in the top 25 percent for European defenders). His 0.8 blocks per 90 ranked second in the Monaco squad last season, whilst his 1.81 interceptions per 90 is in the top 19 per cent for European defenders. This superb roundness to his game saw Disasi ranked 3rd in the Monaco squad by FootballCritic, and drew comparisons to Kim-Min Jae and Virgil van Dijk.
At just under £40 million, Disasi may well prove to be a bargain in years to come; given his extensive experience at a great age, excellent possessional and defensive stats, outstanding track record of availability and proven leadership experience.