A versatile player comfortable on either side of central defence or even operating in a defensive midfield role; Leeds United’s latest transfer target Robin Koch represents an intriguing option as United look to strengthen their squad ahead of a return to the top-flight of English football.
An able defender, Koch has previously caught the eye of scouts at Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. With one year left on his current deal, he is also likely to be available at a cut-price fee - which would be significantly lower than the reported £50 million that Brighton and Hove Albion are reportedly holding out for over Ben White.
But who is Robin Koch, and what will he bring to Marcelo Bielsa’s side?
Who is Robin Koch?
Robin Koch is a 24-year-old currently plying his trade in the Bundesliga for SC Freiburg. The defender is a full German international, having made two appearances for Die Mannschaft, and played a vital role in Freiburg’s impressive league campaign.
The German defender began his career with Eintracht Trier in the Rhienlandliga, the sixth tier of German football. He quickly caught the eye of clubs with his ability to play out from the back coupled with his strong all-round defensive game, earning himself a move to Kaiserslautern in Germany’s second tier.
A year later, and having helped his side beat the drop, Koch was bought by SC Freiburg for just under $4m euros. The German has gone on to make 87 appearances for Freiburg, scoring five goals in that time.
His good form for Freiburg at the beginning of the 2019/20 season was rewarded with a call up by Joachim Low to Germany’s national team.
Koch made his debut in a friendly against Argentina, and despite conceding two late goals to draw the game 2-2, Koch made enough of an impression to be handed another start in a European Qualifier against Belarus.
The 24-year-old is likely to remain in and around the Germany squad for the upcoming UEFA Nations League games against Spain and Switzerland. Whilst Koch is not the finished article, at 24 his previous upward trajectory suggests that he may continue to improve into a very fine defender.
His Play Style:
Physically, Koch is an imposing defender. Standing at 6ft3, the he offers an aerial presence that the Whites do not currently possess. Although Koch is predominantly right-footed, he is capable of operating at both right and left centre back.
Following the restart of the Bundesliga after the COVID-19 pandemic, Koch was used predominantly in midfield by Freiburg boss Christian Streich, a role in which he performed admirably.
His passing ability, especially through the lines, leaves him well suited to this position, whilst his defensive awareness ensures that he is rarely caught out positionally.
Koch averages 47 passes per game, of which just 4 are long balls, all at a success rate of 84%. He also has adequate pace to ensure that he can rectify any positional mistakes that he makes.
Koch has also stayed remarkably injury-free, which will be a bonus given the rigour of a Premier League season. The defender has missed just 10 games since the 2016/17 season, of which 2 were due to illness rather than injury.
His only major injury was in 2019, where knee ligament damage saw him miss five games of Freiburg’s season.
One minor concern with the German defender is that he can be prone to lapses in concentration. On occasion, these can be remedied due to his pace and positional awareness, but equally, he is no stranger to the odd brain malfunction.
For the most part, however, his all-round game is solid, and if he can eradicate the mistakes that he still makes, he will turn into a very good centre-back or an equally proficient defensive midfielder.
How will he fit Marcelo Bielsa’s system?
Koch will be able to slot almost seamlessly into Bielsa’s defence if Leeds are unable to find an agreement with Brighton over Ben White, who was an integral part of their Championship winning side.
Whilst he is not a like-for-like replacement for the young and talented Englishman, he would certainly not be a significant downgrade.
Alternatively, Koch could find himself deployed in midfield on occasion, to give the incredibly hard-working Kalvin Phillips a rest in some Premier League or cup games.
Whilst he may lack the defensive discipline and work-rate that Phillips possesses, he would offer useful cover for the young Englishman
Koch has many qualities which will endear him both to Bielsa and Leeds fans alike. His passing proficiency will be a perfect fit in Bielsa’s playing out from the back system, and he is competent in beating a high press, used by many teams in the Premier League.
Equally, he is not afraid to get stuck in, as his 2.5 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes demonstrate. Having played over 2700 minutes this season (across 34 games), he is likely to be able to handle the rigour of a Bielsa regime and would be an astute signing given his contractual situation.
Whilst rumoured interest is not necessarily an indication of quality, if Leeds United were able to finalise a deal for a man drawing interest from Manchester and North London, it would represent a significant statement of intent.