While Chelsea's three-man back line has managed to keep a clean sheet for five consecutive games in the Premier League, the team are still lacking for depth at the central defender position. But we might not have to worry for much longer though, as young Kurt Zouma gets closer and closer to a full recovery from the torn ACL that had kept him out of contention for eight months.
Zouma will make another appearance for Chelsea's U23 squad today (Tuesday), in the EFL Trophy match against Oxford United at Stamford Bridge. Since his return to full training in October, Zouma has made two appearances for the U23 team: a 45-minute stint against Derby County, and a 60-minute appearance against Everton last week. Both games were in division 1 of the reserves league, which is nowadays called the “Premier League 2”.
"It has been very nice to be back because I haven’t played for such a long time. I have been training with the development squad for a couple of weeks and I’ve enjoyed the experience a lot. They have some very good players so the training and matches have been very good."
"I have been going step by step with my rehabilitation and the games were a good test for me and my knee. It’s been nice to be with the boys on a game day, travelling with them and trying to give out some good advice to them."
"We’ve played with three at the back in the last two games as well, which has been good for me to understand and learn the position a bit better. I’ve not played in that system much in my career but this is what the first team are using at the moment so it was good for me to experience it"
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte expects Zouma to be available to feature for the first team once the international break ends, on November 20th against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium. If everything goes as expected, Zouma will provide defensive depth alongside veterans John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, the latter of whom is also the back-up at right wing-back to Victor Moses.
"It’s been a long time out, the longest injury of my career, but it’s behind me now and it’s time to look forward. Injuries are a part of football and I’ve been lucky to have very good doctors and physios around me, plus my family behind me the whole time so it wasn’t too difficult."
"I have always been mentally strong so I knew I could cope and I was just waiting for my time to come back. You want to be out on the pitch with your teammates but you have to be patient. I could see the time going quickly and I spent every day trying to be stronger and better than before."
-Kurt Zouma; Source: Chelsea FC
While the 22-year-old has not shown any signs of decreased physical prowess in his rehab appearances, it's still not a certainty that he will return to his imposing form on the pitch given the extent of his injury and how often ACL tears can affect an athlete's future, not to mention the current starting group’s excellent defensive record.
But it sure will be nice to have young Kurt Zouma back!