Football’s on break for the next ten days, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look forward to its return, especially as two potentially season-defining games await the Blues after we’re done with the latest FIFA distractions. Lampard’s Chelsea have been on a roll since late September, but the schedule has been kind. That will change after the international break.
Chelsea will face two massive away tests before we even reach December, one in the Premier League and the other in the Champions League. The second is the trip to Valencia, where at least a draw is needed to stay in control of knockout round qualification in Europe. And the first is of course the trip to the blue half of Manchester, where City rarely lose and will be especially keen to get back on track after losing to Liverpool.
Last time we were at the Etihad, we were on the wrong end of a 6-0 humbling. Maybe we can aim to do a little better? Maybe a lot better? Kurt Happy Zouma certainly believes.
“It’s going to be a big game, we’re playing well and it won’t be easy against one of the best teams in the league.
“We also have the quality to go there and do something, we believe in our quality.”
If Chelsea are to get anything out of that game, we will need perfection from the players, especially off the ball. That’s a tall order in any given year, but defensive solidity has not been a regular feature of Lampard’s Chelsea, to say the least.
But seem to be improving a bit, with Zouma and Tomori establishing a decent partnership in central defense. Chelsea gave up 2 or more goals in 5 of the first 6 games this season in all competition. We’ve only done so in 3 of the 13 games since (Liverpool, Burnley, Ajax). While again, the schedule has not been unkind, the improvement at least on the statsheet has been notable.
Against summer expectations, especially after the August disasters against Manchester United and Sheffield United, Zouma has been a key part of that improvement, and not just because of his spectacular tackling. From nearly leaving on loan, to being one of the first names on the team sheet (see also: Fikayo Tomori), the 25-year-old has been able to more than hold his own versus the competition. In fact, only Kepa Arrizabalaga has played more minutes for Chelsea this season.
The clean sheet against Crystal Palace was Chelsea’s third straight at home in the Premier League. And that makes Happy, happy.
“We’re delighted. We’re working hard every day to get wins and this was the sixth one. We were patient, we scored two goals and didn’t concede any so we’re very happy.
“As a defender I’m very happy with the clean sheet and it’s really important for us to keep clean sheets, to keep that confidence high. It’s just about communication and working hard. You have to be in the right position at the right time, talk to your team-mate next to you, and do it all together. We did it well.”
-Kurt Zouma; source: Chelsea FC
When we drew up the depth chart in the summer, Zouma was languishing at about fourth-choice. But with the team’s best center back limited to just 45 minutes all season and out for at least a few more weeks still, the team’s second best center back jumping ship in the summer, and the team’s third best center back dealing with various injuries and inconsistencies of his own, Zouma and Tomori have emerged as the answer. They may not be the best answer, but they’re the best available answer.
In ten days, at the Etihad, they may just be the right answer.