Recently, news broke that Simon Kjær’s stay with Milan will last for at least another season, bringing back an impact player to the San Siro. The centre back’s addition has monumentally improved the Rossoneri’s backline since his loan from Sevilla in January, with Milan averaging 2.52 points per game in the 12 Serie A matches in which Kjær has appeared. Contrastingly, Milan averaged just 1.36 points per game in Serie A matches played without the 31-year-old. The Rossoneri’s goals against average has also improved from 1.30 to 1.17 with Kjær on the field, and 8 of these matches came against teams which are in the top ten highest goalscorers in Serie A.
One of Kjær’s most valuable contributions to Milan is not related to his playing ability, but his affordability. At the age of 31, the defender is likely nearing the end of his prime and has never been a superstar defender. Though a seasoned veteran of the Danish national team, Kjær is a textbook journeyman in club competition, and has never made more than 66 league appearances at any of his plethora of stops. Along with the fact that he seems to fit with Milan much more than he did at either Sevilla or Atalanta, Kjær’s salary should certainly not be too high for his financially-troubled side.
Offensively, the Dane is not a goalscoring threat: he has failed to score in any league competition since the 2017/18 season at Sevilla FC. He also does not create many goals, registering just four assists in his career 28,000 minutes of league play. Kjær’s best offensive trait is his long ball, which he often uses to play wingers through in the attacking third. He strikes the ball softly and cleanly, leading to a high degree of accuracy. The centre back has completed a highly impressive 74.6% of his long balls since 2017, including an 83.6% completion rate during his time with Atalanta and AC Milan this season.
Kjær also is a highly composed centre back. He rarely gives up possession in the defensive third and has a knack for positioning. Positional awareness is crucial for centre backs, as the margin for error, especially against Serie A’s elite group of forwards, is quite small.
Above is a textbook example of Kjær’s positional awareness. As Roma winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan is dribbling into space outside the box, Alessio Romagnoli steps to the Armenian. Winger Justin Kluivert, seeing the open space behind Milan’s captain, makes a fantastic diagonal run, which Kjær tracks. However, once Mkhitaryan makes quick work of Romagnoli, the Denmark international peels off, quickly closing down the Arsenal loanee. He eventually blocks Mkhitaryan’s shot, stopping one of Roma’s best attacking chances of the match.
This next play against Sassuolo is another smart and well-executed defensive stop. Faced with an oncoming run by attacking midfielder Giacomo Raspadori, Kjær passes the marking of striker Francesco Caputo to youngster Matteo Gabbia. He calmly steps up and perfectly times his tackle, taking the ball just as the young CAM takes too big of a touch. He then immediately looks to spark an offensive chance with a progressive forward pass to Hakan Çalhanoğlu. Raspadori had just burned Calabria and Bennacer in this attack, and Kjær did well to recognize that he needed step to the ball before the midfielder could look to take a shot.
Some other interesting statistics about Kjær include his shots blocked per 90 minutes, 1.35, which, if extrapolated across the entire season, would make him one of the top shot blockers in Serie A play. Additionally, the defender’s dribblers tackled rate (50%) and successful pressure percentage (32.9%) are both enough to put him among the top centre backs in the league.
He’s a player who, together with Romagnoli, forms a pair of smart players. They communicate well and have contributed to good results.
Pioli, who will remain as AC Milan’s coach next season, is correct. Kjær’s partnership with Romagnoli has been hugely important to the Rossoneri, as the two seasoned veterans have great chemistry and make up one of the best centre back pairings in Serie A. Finding a decent partner for the captain had become a tough task, with Léo Duarte, Mateo Musacchio and Matteo Gabbia all struggling at times, but Milan seem to have finally found an answer.
Kjær is not a flashy centre back and is not going to make incredible, goal-saving tackles often (he has attempted just 17 tackles so far this season). The 31-year-old is also never going to be the fastest player on the pitch. However, his composure, defensive positioning and error-free style of play make him a well-above average defender in Serie A. He has transformed Milan’s backline since his arrival, and the combination of himself, Romagnoli, Théo Hernandez and Andrea Conti (or Pierre Kalulu/Davide Calabria) should be a top 5 defense in Serie A next season.