How Kurt Zouma has made an impact, far sooner than intended
Kurt Zouma’s transfer to Chelsea from French side Saint-Etienne passed quietly under the radar in January 2014. Signed for a fee of £12.5 million, the 20-year-old was loaned straight back to his former club for the remainder of the season.
Many predicted Zouma would become another victim of the loan system at Chelsea. It’s been a struggle in recent seasons for the club’s fringe players to cement a place in the first team and many players have found themselves being loaned out on a seasonly basis.
This is why it came as somewhat of a shock when the promising young central defender was given the number 5 shirt by manager Jose Mourinho prior to the start of the current campaign.
With Chelsea making such an impressive start to the season, Mourinho saw no need to tinker with his trusted central defensive partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill. The manager has kept a relatively settled starting eleven throughout the season and has employed the 4-2-3-1 system with extreme efficiency.
Zouma eventually made his Premier League debut as an injury-time substitute at Old Trafford in October, before starting his first top flight game for the club the following week. It seemed as though it would take something special to alter Jose Mourinho’s starting eleven, but as Gary Cahill’s form dropped, Zouma continued to flourish.
The young centre back has all the attributes to be one of the world’s finest defenders. As well as his obvious physical strengths, his ability to read the game is outstanding. He is comfortable with the ball at his feet and immensely powerful in ariel duals.
Recent performances have seen many pundits draw comparisons to former Chelsea star Marcel Desailly. The club legend played over 150 games for The Blues and as well as being of similar stature, their reading of defensive situations is what is most comparable between the two.
Naturally he has been quick to play down the comparisons with Desailly, saying it is too early in his development to be likened to such a player. But with every game he plays, the similarity becomes greater.
In Chelsea’s recent Champions League game against PSG, Mourinho opted for experience over form. Gary Cahill was restored to the side, only to be at fault for the PSG goal. Zouma was immediately back in the side for their next Premier League game and it will be interesting to see if he is trusted in Chelsea’s next European outing.
It looks as though Zouma has displaced Cahill as the preferred man to partner Terry in Chelsea’s defence. Cahill has looked nervy in recent performances; possibly feeling the pressure from the ever improving young Frenchman. Zouma has now started the last 7 home games and seems to be improving with every performance.
Terry and Cahill are certainly not the quickest of centre backs and Zouma’s pace is possibly what has kept him in the side in recent games. He’s played 9 times for Chelsea and in 6 of those matches the side has kept a clean sheet.
France manager Didier Deschamps has labelled Zouma as a possible future captain for his national side. With Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane still at a similar age, the pair have the potential to create a formidable centre back pairing for their national side that could span over a decade.
Although John Terry is still playing at such a high standard, he doesn’t have too many seasons left. Zouma is seen by many as the long term replacement for the club’s long serving captain.
Zouma’s middle name is Happy, something that opposing attackers perhaps won’t be when facing him in years to come.