In what has been an up and down year for Chelsea, there are few players who have remained consistent throughout the course of this unique and unprecedented season of football. Our defence in particular has been an area of concern, and Frank Lampard is seemingly yet to find his perfect central partnership, one that may need transfer market intervention. The player in focus today is Kurt Zouma, and he, like the club as a whole, has had a pretty turbulent year in blue and white.
Zouma’s season got off to a bad start at Old Trafford in August of last year. Very early on in Lampard’s first game in charge, his clumsiness showed. Giving away a penalty and having an all round poor defensive performance, many fans instantly wrote off the returned loanee, and branded him ‘not good enough’ for Chelsea. However, opinions started to change on the big French centre half. He scored his only goal of the season in our 7-1 win over Grimsby Town and looked especially impressive when Lampard deployed him in a back four with Fikayo Tomori, both looking defensively sound, and most notably, keeping a clean sheet away at Ajax in our 1-0 win in October. As the new year approached, we seemed to be unable to pull together a result at Stamford Bridge, but we were flying away from home; two consecutive visits to North London resulting in six points for the Blues in December. But our form was changing as much as our defensive partnerships were, and Zouma saw a period of time out of the team following the return of Antonio Rudiger from injury, which still didn’t provide the answer to our defensive woes. He returned against Manchester United in February; a huge game in the dynamic top four race that was becoming even harder to predict the outcome of. The game itself was tainted with controversy, United escaping with three points after Zouma’s second half header had been disallowed for a dubious foul in the build up, just one of the many incidents that seemed to be going United’s way that night. His, and our season as a whole, slowly petered out following the start of March, with the Corona Virus pandemic halting all football action worldwide.
Zouma recorded 6 clean sheets from 32 games in all competitions this season, whilst managing a tackle success of 57%; not exactly the most awe inspiring stats from our number 15. For someone of his height and stature, you would also expect an increased threat from corners and free kicks alike, but Zouma was not amongst the goals throughout the duration of the campaign. He did however manage an impressive aerial duels success rate, winning 87/117 (or 74%). Despite not being known as a ball playing central defender Zouma completed 94 accurate long passes this season, and registered a pass accuracy of 88%. Respectable stats for a player of his quality and experience, whilst still being aged only 25.
Zouma’s moment of the season will not come as a surprise to anybody. In fact, as a fan, it may well be up there with one of my moments of the season as a whole. I was lucky enough to attend Chelsea vs Ajax in the group stages of the Champions League and was standing in the Matthew Harding Lower when the magic unfolded. We found ourselves 4-1 down to a dangerous Ajax side, spearheaded by now Chelsea player Hakim Ziyech. The Bridge was flat. By the minute, hope from all four corners of the ground was vanishing into the air above us, and there was a horrible feeling of damage limitation, as opposed to chasing a result from the game. Cue Kurt Zouma, picking the ball up deep in our own half. His first few strides forward were met with apprehension from our fellow Chelsea fans, as we expected him to be caught in possession, and an Ajax counter to be launched, such is typical of the player over his years in blue. But against all odds, Zouma produced a run of such quality, that I can only compare it to that of Eden Hazard, who we were all so familiar with seeing produce moments of magic in times gone by. Kurt strode forward with elegance and power, twisting and turning through the Ajax midfield until he was met 1on1 with Daley Blind, rapidly approaching the edge of their box. A couple of unorthodox step-overs later, having left Daley Blind in the dust, Kurt unleashed a strike at goal. I still fantasise today at just how amazing the scenes in Stamford Bridge would have been had that strike gone in, and not 50 yards over the bar. Despite this though, the Bridge erupted in a different way. Suddenly there was hope. There was a realisation that this Ajax team were vulnerable, and it had taken Kurt Zouma’s strength and courage to show it. The bridge was bouncing; the catalyst being a wild moment of inspiration from the least likely person on the pitch to provide it. It turned out to be one of the greatest European games the Bridge has seen, and I honestly put a lot of that down to Kurt Zouma.
So overall, for a season full of rotation and ups-and-downs, as this exciting new Chelsea side takes its form, I would consider it a good one for Kurt Zouma. An out and out good defender, and looking like he is improving on the ball, I still think that he can be of use to us and Frank Lampard in the years to come. And if there is any more of what he showed against Ajax hidden up his sleeve, I am certainly not against seeing more of him out on the green, in blue.
Edited by: Dan