On Saturday night, highly-touted young defender Kurt Zouma made his first appearance for St. Etienne following his deadline-day signing (and subsequent loan) with Chelsea. ASSE were at home against Valenciennes, who began the match in the relegation zone and are, if you haven't been following Ligue 1 this season, very bad.
Zouma's missed big chunks of the season with injury and suspension, and playing one of the league's worst teams at home represented a pretty soft landing. But it was still an opportunity to watch our newest signing in action even if it was always pretty clear he'd have a relatively easy time in what ultimately ended up being a 3-0 win. How'd he do? There were plusses and minuses.
First, and most importantly, St. Etienne kept a clean sheet and didn't give up any significant chances. Zouma defended well both times he was one on one against a forward, dispossessing Abdul Waris twice when he tried to drive at the box, and he was, for the most part, a rock on set pieces.
Defensively, the only issues came after ASSE went 2-0 up. Zouma seemed to switch off -- he was very, very slow to track back after going up the pitch for corners and took an alarmingly lackadaisical approach to defending once the game was won. He was still fine, of course, but it was clear that some of his focus had been lost.
On the ball, there were some sloppy moments but for the most part there wasn't much of a problem. Valenciennes didn't press high up the pitch so he had time to ping in a few pretty good long balls, but Zouma's role was more about getting short passes to his fullbacks and midfielders rather than to be an outright creator (because duh, he's a centre back).
He was involved in the first goal, although it's not clear how involved. Two St. Etienne players, of which Zouma was one, combined to help flick on a corner at the near post, and there wasn't a good enough view to tell which one actually got the decisive touch before Renaud Cohade stabbed in. The stats sheet gave midfielder Benjamin Corgnet the assist, though, so let's go with that.
One amusing point to note is that it took all of eight minutes to see a tackle worse than the one for which Zouma got a ten-game ban -- David Ducourtioux went in two-footed on ASSE left back Jonathan Brison, for which he was... yellow carded. Ligue 1 is hilarious sometimes.
Anyway, Zouma did fine. Not great, but fine, and he didn't need to be anything more than fine today. I'd have liked to see a more focused display after the game had been won, but a) the game was won and b) he's 19 so I don't mind that much. There'll be more challenging opponents in Zouma's future, and it looks like he'll be ready for them.