If you were to craft the perfect Premier League centre back from raw materials, the finished product would probably resemble Kurt Zouma. Tall, powerful, pacey and fearless, the young centre back has every physical tool to become a dominating presence. Mentally, he is learning the position. The strides Zouma made from preseason to being entrusted with marking Sergio Agüero were enormous. However, it will be how he continues to improve the technical and cerebral parts of his game that will ultimately determine how far he goes.
Above everything else Zouma’s attitude is immaculate. The hunger, desire and willingness to do anything for the team do sit at odds with some of his younger teammates’ mentalities. Zouma has drive and conviction, something which our Academy products could certainly learn from. When pushed into an unfamiliar midfield role to offer some much needed physicality, he did so without complaint, throwing himself around, crashing about and generally playing better than anyone had a right to expect.
While Zouma’s future most certainly remains as a robust centre back, you cannot underestimate the faith Jose Mourinho has in his versatility. Seeing him playing left-back at Wembley was unquestionably disconcerting, but to his credit he simply got on with things. Such is his athletic ability that he can realistically play almost anywhere on the pitch and be effective. His standout performance against Marouane Fellaini last season seems to have firmly entrenched him as a trusted Mourinho body.
Defensively, Zouma is simplistic and his ball-playing skill set is adequate, although still developing. The growth in his ability to pick out a midfielder with a line break pass is something that we saw burgeon over the course of the season. Often good attacking positions stem from a centre back’s ability to find an advanced midfielder between the lines with a crisp pass, and Zouma became increasingly interested in doing just that as he found his feet at Chelsea. As his confidence grew we could see more of his ability on the ball.
It has been probably ten years since Chelsea have had something akin to Zouma’s pace at the back. In many respects he is reminiscent of William Gallas, who remains one of the best centre backs I have ever seen play. Eventually, when Zouma establishes himself as a starting player, this pace opens up far more options for Mourinho tactically.
José Mourinho ideally wants to press high and in doing so he needs to look to compress the pitch. André Villas-Boas’ fabled high line that exposed John Terry so horrifically would likely return. The mooted signing of John Stones certainly presupposes Mourinho pairing the Everton player with Zouma. A combination of youth, pace, defensive acumen and power, flanked by Azpilicueta and maybe someone like Baba Rahman is theoretically a significant departure from how Mourinho can currently operate.
Chelsea have looked suspect in preseason from a defensive standpoint. As such, Zouma really needs to be making a case for himself to permanently partner John Terry this season. He is far more decisive than Cahill when it comes to making tackles and, unlike the incumbent, does not take a backwards step. You feel that this season will be about refinement for the quiet hulk and taking that next step in his progression.
Kurt may well be a future Chelsea captain if everything pans out for him. His success may be inextricably linked to having a new young partner to help fill the role of technical ball player alongside him. Everything is in place for him to cement himself in the side. It is whether he impresses Mourinho enough to take a spot and then make it his own.
We Ain't Got No History's 2015/16 season preview was edited by Joe Tweeds and designed by Graham MacAree. If you've enjoyed the work of the authors who generously donated their time to this project, please share with your friends and consider supporting The Chelsea Foundation as a way of saying thank you.Credits