Even before Thomas Tuchel took over as head coach, Kurt Zouma’s playing time had been trending down. Having started 21 of our fist 26 games this season, including 12 in a row at one point, the big center back had started just 1 of Lampard’s last 3 games, an FA Cup tie at that.
And that trend has continued under Tuchel, with a singular FA Cup appearance to his name prior to the weekend. But Zouma was a surprise starter against Southampton, his first Premier League appearance since the loss against Manchester City at the start of January. t
It was a bit of a last-minute decision apparently. Andreas Christensen had been deputizing for Thiago Silva in the middle of the back-three, but the latter was expected back this weekend. That did not come to pass, which may have caused a rethink of the assignments for the available defenders, for this game and perhaps going forward into the week.
Unfortunately, Zouma would end up being central to Chelsea’s defensive lapse in the first-half — both the initial error in positioning and anticipation, and in giving up on the play — which allowed Southampton’s Liverpool loanee, Takumi Minamino to become the first opposition player to score against Tuchel’s Blues. Still, the manager was happy enough with Zouma’s performance overall.
“Today I learned a lot of positive things about Kurt Zouma in his performance which was very positive. We decided it late to put him on the pitch. He had a good game. He was present and clear in his actions. He fulfilled his role at the top level, very very good.
“With Kurt [...] I am very happy.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Goal
Tuchel, who also singled out N’Golo Kanté for praise, didn’t have much to be happy about on Saturday, really — none of us did! — and in this case, one would expect Silva to return to the heart of defense as soon as he’s able. Until then, it’s good to know that we have a couple solid options.
In the longer view, it might be worthwhile to keep an eye on Zouma’s minutes. Earlier this season, it looked like he was the only center back even remotely assured of his future at the club beyond this season. Wonder if that is still the case...