This article is part of Football FanCast’s One to Watch series, which focuses on those players we think are particularly worth keeping an eagle-eye on as the 2019/20 season unfolds.
Kurt Zouma is back at Chelsea but his development has been seriously stunted since his arrival from St. Etienne.
With Frank Lampard looking to boost a squad with transfer-restraints, could the forgotten man become a key player for his side in the upcoming campaign?
The France international was signed by the Blues on deadline day in January 2014 and returned straight to the Ligue 1 side on a six-month loan deal. He arrived with high expectations, having previously been praised by Didier Deschamps who said: “Kurt is young but we all know his potential. He has enormous quality and a huge future ahead of him.”
It’s fair to say he made a promising start to life at Chelsea, playing 15 Premier League games – including 7 starts – in Jose Mourinho’s title-winning side and making 26 appearances in all competitions – an impressive tally for a 19-year-old.
He earned himself even more game time in the following year, starting a total of 21 league games as Chelsea struggled to retain their title, but he was establishing himself as an important member of the Blues’ squad.
The end of what was an impressive campaign saw Zouma’s career take a turn for the worse. An incredibly unfortunate injury saw him miss almost the whole of 2016 with a cruciate ligament rupture in his knee, and unfortunately for the Frenchman, he never quite found his best for the club after that setback.
He eventually went on loan to Stoke City in 2017/18 to breathe new life into his career, but that didn’t quite work out either as he experienced relegation from the Premier League with the Potters.
Doubts began to emerge over the true extent of his ability but a thoroughly successful stint at Everton last season has provided him with a platform from which to propel himself back into the fold at Stamford Bridge.
The profound impact he had already made on Marco Silva more than half way through his loan spell told the whole story. The Portuguese manager, per Liverpool ECHO: “I am really pleased, to be really honest with you. Really pleased.
“I took the decision in the last day of the market. I had the name in my mind, always, and was in contact with people who are close to him but I had that solution in mind, even if you know the club doesn’t want to sell him.”
The upcoming season could see the centre-back really cement a place in the starting XI for the Blues, something that looked very unlikely to happen 12 months ago. But here we are, with Chelsea nursing Antonio Rudiger’s injury, David Luiz now 32 and about as trustworthy as his doppelganger Sideshow Bob, Gary Cahill leaving the club and Lampard unable to sign any replacements.
Perhaps, this is Zouma’s time to work his way back into the side.
Lampard has already spoken of his desire to keep the defender at the club and afford him the opportunities to prove himself, which is a huge boost for Chelsea’s squad and for the player himself.
It seems the pressure is off for Lampard’s first season, considering the circumstances he’s working under, though at Chelsea there’s always an expectation to deliver.
If the defender can rediscover the type of glowing form he showcased at Everton last season, it won’t be long before he endears himself to the Stamford Bridge faithful.
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Present circumstances dictate that the Frenchman could well become a regular in the Chelsea side this season. Lampard has kept him at the club for a reason and it appears there is a gap waiting to be filled.
Zouma should be aiming to be a regular in the starting XI at the very least. The last thing he needs is to fall into the background and be forgotten by his club with Euro 2020 looming on the horizon and Didier Deschamps assessing his centre back options.
Everything appears to be in place for Zouma to finally break into the Chelsea team and cement himself as a regular in west London.
This is his time.
Minimum target across all competitions: