The South Korean defender is one of the biggest surprises to come from Napoli’s Scudetto run, proving to be one of the most efficient players in Serie A.

There’s a moment during Napoli’s Scudetto celebration that speaks volumes about Kim Min-Jae and his importance to his teammates and supporters. While the whole team is celebrating, Di Lorenzo, the captain, is very close to a dangerous gap, a step that he’s approaching backward, inadvertently stepping into nothing. Kim realizes that and – before his teammate can trip and fall, he gets behind him, carrying him with his hands to avoid a potential one-meter fall with consequential injury.

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Kim Min-Jae arrived in Napoli last summer to replace Kalidou Koulibaly: the best defender in Napoli and arguably in the entire Serie A. Replacing him is a task that seemed impossible for a player that very few people knew, raised between South Korea and China, with less than two years playing at a decent level, with Fenerbahce. But it took Kim little time to prove he was up to the job.

In September, Napoli won 2-1 against AC Milan at the San Siro, a tough game that meant a lot in terms of proving Spalletti side’s true ambitions. Kim had some struggles marking an in-form Giroud, but never lost his focus, being able to make a decisive tackle in the seventh minute of extra time, saving a close-range header from Brahim Diaz with his left leg. The Milan player had hit the ball so close to the goalkeeper that it seemed impossible for anyone to stop it, but Kim’s long leg came from behind to deviate the ball past the post. Almost a goalkeeper save.

Kim Min-Jae's profile from Wyscout Player Report

Physically strong but also quick and agile, Kim has been one of the key elements in Napoli’s Scudetto run. With his ability to defend high up the pitch - anticipating and tackling – as well as his ability to defend deep, thus allowing Napoli’s defense to keep a high line and also providing the opportunity for full-backs Di Lorenzo and Mario Rui (or Oliveira) to cut centrally and attack every time they wanted. Kim’s presence covers a vast portion of the pitch, either when he plays on the left (which he usually does, in the starting lineup with Rrhamani) or on the right (which he does when playing with Juan Jesus).

According to Wyscout data, he’s the third-best player in the league for interceptions (118; behind Udinese’s Walace and Empoli’s Luperto), sixth-best for total aerial duels and first among defenders (170), first overall for aerial duels in his own penalty area (48) and fourth in shots blocked (26). Kim’s presence was felt in the whole defensive half and beyond: there are very few defenders that are just as cool in the penalty box as they are 50 meters away from it.

Kim Min-Jae's defensive duels data from Wyscout Player Report

Neat, precise, and always on the lookout, Kim has also been vital with the ball at his feet. He’s the defender with the most passes attempted in the league (averaging 73.3 per 90 minutes) and – when given space ahead of him, he hasn’t been afraid of carrying the ball up to the opponent box, with strong and quick carries. “He decides to go for it and runs the whole pitch in five seconds”, said Napoli’s manager Luciano Spalletti last March. “He’s the best center-back in the world”, he also said.

Maybe Spalletti got carried by the enthusiasm of an exceptional season but it’s true that Kim Min-Jae has surprised everybody and after a season in Serie A at 26-years-old, he seems to have much room to improve even further.

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