Appearances: 28 starts (+4 as substitute).
Minutes: 1917 in Premier League; 231 in domestic cups; 468 in Champions League.
Statistics (per 90 minutes, Premier League): 1.03 tackles won (57.8% success rate); 1.69 interceptions; 3.0 aerial duels won (69.57% success rate).
Kurt Zouma was bought by Chelsea from Ligue 1 side Saint-Étienne in January 2014, but he only made his way to Stamford Bridge in the summer of that year. Even though Zouma was only 19 at the time, he had already featured in more than 70 games in France, having made his professional debut as a 16-year-old in 2011.
He spent his first season at Chelsea as a back-up to our main centre backs John Terry and Gary Cahill, giving a good impression in the appearances he made either as a starter — on the rare occasion of former manager José Mourinho rotating his players — or as a defensive substitute as an extra centre back or defensive midfielder. After collecting 28 appearances (17 as a starter) in the 2014-15 season, Zouma seemed set to take another major leap forward and become a first choice defender in our back four. And that's exactly what he did.
Zouma wasn't a starter for Chelsea from day one of the season. He made three substitute appearances before the turning point came against Manchester City. That's when Captain John Terry was subbed off at half-time by Mourinho on account of poor, slow play. While Zouma alone couldn't prevent City from winning easily 3-0, he did enough to earn Mourinho's trust.
From that day forth, Zouma went on to start all but two matches — against Walsall in the League Cup and Southampton in the league — with Mourinho as manager, at times getting deployed at even at right back to cover for Ivanovic's injury. Terry would eventually find his way back into the starting line-up, too, forming a good partnership with Zouma. It wasn't an entirely goal-proof system, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the best we had.
While not a player as refined as Terry in decision-making, positioning and sometimes even on aerial and ground duels, Zouma is able to make up for most of those shortcomings with his amazing physical tools and great tackling technique. The best example of that this season was his tackle on Anthony Martial at Old Trafford.
Zouma kept his place in the first team under Guus Hiddink as well, until a bad landing in early February tore his ACL. The subsequent surgery and rehab caused him to miss the rest of the season and perhaps even the start of the next.
The Good: Zouma helped Chelsea get a rare clean sheet in the first half of the season in the 1-0 win over Norwich City with an amazing display of his aerial ability. In that match alone he won 8 aerial duels and almost got himself in the scoresheet with a headed attempt that hit the woodwork.
The Bad: Kurt Zouma is not a right back. Nowhere was that more evident than in our 3-1 loss to Liverpool at home.
The Ugly: ACL injuries are scary.
Verdict: Zouma continued to develop and grow as a player right in front of our eyes as the season progressed. He wasn't perfect by any means, but he's still incredibly young and the mental side of the game will improve with further playing time. Pairing him with John Terry was an obvious and highly beneficial step, even if the captain was starting to really show his age.
Unfortunately, Zouma's short-term and perhaps long-term future could very much depend on how his ACL injury plays out. The biggest worry is his over-reliance on his physical tools, which may not be as great (or he may not be as confident in them) post-injury as they were before. On the other hand, perhaps this will force him to develop faster in the mental aspects of defending. Either way, in a couple years, Zouma could be in the conversation for best defenders in the sport and there's certainly a hope that he'll be able to anchor the defensive line for many years to come.