In a summer of slightly bizarre transfer business over at Stamford Bridge, Stoke City may have benefitted the most after they snapped up powerful defender Kurt Zouma on a season-long loan.
The 22-year-old has already proven himself to be an excellent acquisition this season, being influential in the narrow victory against Arsenal, and he proved his worth again on Saturday night.
Not many people would have given Stoke a chance against a rampant Manchester United side, winning their opening three Premier League matches of the season by scoring ten goals and conceding none, but Mark Hughes’ side again stood tall again performed out of their skins.
If there was one man that typified the home side’s dogged attitude it was Zouma, casting an imperious figure in the heart of the defence and setting the example for his teammates to follow.
He barely gave the in-form Romelu Lukaku time to think on the ball, closing him down and staying tight to him for most of the game, whilst he was always on hand to mop up and sweep at the back.
The 22-year-old made nine clearances at the bet365 Stadium yesterday – more than any other player on the field – as the hosts had their backs to the wall at certain stages of the game, also winning 100% of his aerial battles and making two critical blocks to stop United from finding the net.
Yet, whilst his defensive efforts will understandably take the plaudits, it was his desire and his willingness to drive from the back which had an impact on the game, showing that Stoke weren’t going to sit back.
This is the problem that Leicester City faced against Jose Mourinho’s side at Old Trafford, being stationed far too deep all match and inviting the constant stream of pressure, and manager Hughes had clearly set his side out to avoid this and attack whenever possible – with Zouma taking note.
The Frenchman completed 100% of his attempted take-ons, always looking to push Stoke forward and almost take the game to their opponents, showing that they’re not scared of the Premier League’s elite.
Perhaps most important of all he took leadership on the field in the absence of captain Ryan Shawcross, adjusting to a slightly different role in defence and ensuring the back-three kept tight.
It would have been a huge injustice had his inadvertent injury-time header found its way into his own net but, fortunately for Zouma and Stoke, the outstanding Jack Butland was on-hand again to palm to safety.
A point was arguably the right result in the end, with neither side deserving to lose a tightly match, and Stoke can be grateful for Zouma for the impact he’s had since arriving from Chelsea in the summer.