Southampton appear to have unearthed another gem, with 20-year-old summer recruit Armel Bella-Kotchap impressing in the club’s 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Friday night.
The precocious Parisian was tasked with the unenviable job of keeping a lid on an attacking trident containing awkward customers Philippe Coutinho, Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey. For the most part, he stuck to the assignment well, but a moment of hesitation from the Southampton defence, allowed Jacob Ramsey to fire home just before half-time.
It will be another learning curve for the young defender in the Premier League as he continues to adjust and adapt to a new division, one notoriously as sink-or-swim as the Premier League that routinely separates the wheat from the chaff.
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Here at Villa Park, Southampton were played off the park, but Bella-Kotchap’s composure on the ball and aggressive presence off it offered encouragement for Ralph Hasenhuttl, whose strategy to go after unheralded potential for sensible sums — rather than chuck substantial fees at recognised names — appears to be bearing fruit once again.
It would have perhaps come as a surprise to see Bella-Kotchap’s name included in the latest Germany squad for this month’s Nations League games, but those on the South Coast will tell you that their raw gem doesn’t look like a footballing pariah among Hansi Flick’s established superstars — he is one in the making.
And it makes sense that the talented tyro has made such an early impression in the division, given his education. While honing his craft for Bochum, whom Southampton prised him away from in the summer, he revealed that he used to study the playing style of former Saint Virgil van Dijk.
“I try to learn from different role models,” Bella-Kotchap told the Bundesliga’s website on his training methodologies.
“I can see what they are particularly good at, and what I have to work on to play like them.”
On Van Dijk, he commented: “He has a pretty no-nonsense game, hard but fair.”
He will be disappointed by the score, but not by his own individual performance. The towering centre-back finished the game having made more clearances (six) and interceptions (five) than any other player on the Villa Park pitch. He also registered the most possessions won (12), and the most accurate passes (43).