What to expect from Kurt Zouma this season
Jose Mourinho’s alleged refusal to shake Arsene Wenger’s hand following Chelsea’s loss in the Community Shield seemed like a textbook deflection tactic away from his side’s weak performance or, going further, from his side’s underlying quality. There has been some doubt about the side’s depth, showcased this pre-season by one Kurt Zouma.
Following the bizarre sale of Felipe Luis after just one unremarkable year, Zouma featured at left-back at various points in pre-season, including the Community Shield. This suggests that Zouma may firmly be Mourinho’s second choice for that position, and with a busy season ahead, it might be expected to see him play there in the following nine months (although Chelsea do have an amazingly good injury record).
It seems more likely, however, that he will appear in his preferred position. John Terry will be 35, an age not exactly conducive to playing over 50 games in a season, and Gary Cahill seems intent on throwing himself into self-injuring challenges. Chelsea may also see a 3-at-the-back system, as was implemented in the last minutes of the Community Shield match, and makes some sense given the particular lack of squad depth in defence.
The young Frenchman will certainly see more playing time than last season, but what of the quality of his play? He received an encouraging amount of attention in 2014/15, particularly for several saving tackles after strikers broke through the back line. This, though, is partly due to his footwork, which at times looks worryingly flat-footed, and often puts him half a pace behind the run of an opponent. His speed generally means he can catch up, but it is still a worrying quirk of his game.
To statistically assess defenders is a problem that even the best analysts are struggling with. Any judgement of Zouma is complicated further by the fact he played so few minutes in 2014/15 and that he was playing in Ligue 1 the season before, a league different enough from the EPL to cause potential problems.
These caveats firmly in mind, Zouma is not flagged up as a great prospect on either of the two methods I have of trying to untangle the web of defensive statistics. Due to the uncertainty of these measures, this does not necessarily mean much though.
Chelsea’s defensive set-up is designed to protect their central defenders – mainly Terry, probably – which would help a more mediocre defender though Zouma appears, from game footage, to be reasonable. His positioning and awareness is largely good, however it is clear that he is young and inexperienced, as there are times when his awareness is lacking.
Playing alongside Terry – whose leadership, communication, and football awareness is fantastic – will help his development. We will likely see more of Zouma this season, and he will hope it is in the middle rather than on the left, where he looks noticeably like a central defender at full-back. As for whether his performances will be of a Chelsea standard, many will be hopeful but only time will tell for sure.
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