When Kurt Zouma went down with a horrific torn ACL in February, it truly felt like the turd cherry on top of the rotten cake that was last season. Zouma's development and emergence into a first-team starter was one of the few good things to have happened up to that point in the season, but his anguished screams after landing wrong from one of his majestic jumps against Manchester United pierced the veil even on that specific feeling of contentment.
ACL injuries are often career-altering, even with improvements in modern sports medicine. Zouma's recovery so far seems to have gone well — he was back in light training after just six months and was making appearances for the U23 side in less than nine. A month later he was being named to the first-team bench and now, eleven months after the injury, he's ready to start.
"It's a very good feeling because I was out for a long time so it's nice to be back with my team-mates and involved with the squad. The team have been playing so well recently and we are really happy with the big run we had."
"Of course, everybody wants to play but we are doing very well at the moment and hopefully we are going to continue like that. The most important thing is that we are a team, we want to win so we must all stick together. Everybody's chance will come so you must be patient. Those who have been playing have been doing well but I am ready."
Zouma has a few months of training time under his belt with Conte and in his rehab appearances in the youth team, he also played as part of a back three. He's very much right-footed, so presumably he will be on the right-hand side of the line, but his combination of speed, power, aggression, and strength should serve him well on either side.
"We are working a lot in training, we do a lot of tactical work and we watch a lot of videos so it's going really well. I have a good relationship with the manager and we talk a lot with each other. He talks a lot to all of the players and it's easy to understand the tactics because he's always right behind us, encouraging us, that makes it easy to learn."
"I played a few games for the Under-23s using that system which was good for me. When you watch videos and work on the tactical side in training it's much easier to take in. Watching the players from the bench allows you to learn a lot and I always talk to the boys about the games. They've been playing so well and I've been very focused and watching closely."
In his brief career with the Blues, Zouma's already won a Premier League and League Cup title, playing a key role in the final against Spurs for the latter trophy. He's now ready to begin the quest to add an FA Cup to his already handsome trophy cabinet at just age 22.
"It's a target. When you start the season you want to win everything. Now we're out of the League Cup and we don't have European football so we really want to win it. We won't take any game lightly. We are playing very well at the moment so we want to continue today."
"We've been in unbelievable form and against Tottenham, even though we lost, I felt we did well. We were very compact but they scored with two headers so we were unlucky. For everybody, the fans and us, it's important we produce a big performance and win the game. We want to show our quality."
-Kurt Zouma; source: Chelsea FC
Hopefully Zouma can put this lost year behind him and resume his career stronger, better, smarter. If he can, he'll be a mainstay of the Chelsea defense for many years to come. Starting (again) today.