In Sunday's FA Cup match against Peterborough, Kurt Zouma made his first appearance for Chelsea since suffering a torn ACL in February. While he had played a few games with the U23 side as part of his recovery, this was the first time he played a competitive match for eleven months.
Understandably, the 22-year-old was a bit out of sorts to at the beginning of the game, but as the minutes progressed, Zouma started to get to grips with the system and the task at hand. A rather heavy collision with one of the visiting Peterborough players may have actually been the catalyst — Zouma stayed down for a couple minutes, but seemed to play progressively better from then on.
Speaking after the match to French media, he himself reflected on that particular moment, which apparently knocked even all the French out of him!
"I said in English in my head: 'welcome back'"
Zouma may be young and still developing his game, but he’s always come across as a smart, realistic, and of course very nice person. He knows that his chances may be limited this season, but he surely knows that if all goes well, he’ll be a backbone in the Chelsea defense for many years to come.
"[I played] four matches [recently but] only twice 90 minutes, and I was with the reserve team for two months. But in my head [on Sunday] I was ready to meet the competition and engage in duels."
"It has been a long wait. It has inevitably affected my game. I still have to improve. Everyone wants to play, but I must be patient too."
-Kurt Zouma; Source: L'Equipe via Inside Futbol
Before his unfortunate injury, Zouma had already grown into an uncontested starter under both José Mourinho and Guus Hiddink. There’s no reason to think he won’t achieve the same under Conte.
In his post-match interview with Chelsea TV, after crediting the Chelsea medical staff for his recovery, he talked a bit about his relationship with the new Chelsea boss as well.
“He talked to me like he talks to everyone. Recover well, because when you are back I want you to play.”
“In August I went on the tour with the squad, so I was next to the players, close to them, and that helped a lot. The manager explained his tactics to me because we did not know them before. At that time we were playing four at the back but now we play a five with three central defenders.”
“The manager likes to do a lot of tactical work and he put me in there with the other players to help me learn and understand. It was good. He worked to make me understand it in my head even though I was not fully fit.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Welcome back, Happy!