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Kurt Zouma returns to action after near nine-month injury layoff, showing plenty of rust but also signs to be hopeful

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It's been a long time since young Kurt Zouma last took to the pitch in a Chelsea shirt.  He ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) at the start of February in a match against Manchester United, and has spent the eight and a half months since undergoing surgery and the extensive rehab associated with such injuries.

Recovering in less than nine months is actually quite impressive -- ACL issues can drag on for years -- but it's important to continue to bring him along slowly.  While he had been back in training for a couple weeks now, today, he made his competitive return to the pitch as the Chelsea U23/Reserves side took on Derby County at Aldershot.

Lining up on the right side of a back three (with Fikayo Tomori in the middle and Trevoh Chalobah on the left), Zouma had a mixed day before being taken off at half time in a presumably pre-arranged substitution.

Looking no worse for the wear in terms of physicality, Zouma was once again impressive with his leaping and sprinting abilities.  Unfortunately, his mistimed tackle gifted a penalty to Derby, which they duly converted (on the rebound) for the 1-0 lead.  Chelsea would come back to take the lead in the second half before giving up a late equalizer.

But the important thing is that Zouma's back and has seemingly made it through unscathed his first real action in almost nine months.  He's got a while to go yet before returning to first-team action, but we're getting close!