It’s one of Chelsea’s two main conundrum’s this off-season – who will play centre-back on the opening day and who will lead the line? It’s also still, arguably, open to interpretation. Antonio Rudiger is most likely going to miss the opening game of the season against Manchester United through injury, otherwise he’d be a shoo-in to start. That leaves David Luiz as the most experienced centre-back option available so he will probably take one of the two central defensive positions – leaving that final spot to one of Kurt Zouma, Fikayo Tomori or Andreas Christensen. They can’t even sign anyone due to the transfer ban hovering over them until next summer.
Each of the options have their upsides as well as potential pitfalls but it is the performances of Zouma this pre-season which have stood out the most above all. The 24-year-old has been quite the outcast at Stamford Bridge ever since Jose Mourinho was sacked in 2015. During that 2015/16 campaign, Zouma made 32 appearances for the Blues which dropped nearly in half the following season under Antonio Conte, playing 17 times – just nine of which in the Premier League. He has since featured regularly in the top-flight with loan spells at Stoke City and more recently Everton last season.
His former boss has recently told Frank Lampard to put his trust in the Frenchman…
"I just give an example: Chelsea needs a centre-back – Kurt Zouma! You don't need to buy, you don't need to spend. Zouma!"
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) August 1, 2019
It is hard to disagree with him. For the past two seasons, he has impressed playing over 30 Premier League matches in both spells away from the club. That’s more than Christensen has managed over the last two years combined having only started 29 games in the league – the majority coming in the 2017/18 season.
Tomori remains unexposed to the level of quality in the Premier League – he enjoyed a decent loan spell under Lampard last season when the pair of them were at Derby County but that’s the highest level of football the 21-year-old has ever played. He should probably get some top-flight experience under his belt before he’s even considered, maybe a loan to Everton to replace the void left by Zouma is the ultimate scenario.
A partnership of Zouma and Luiz is quite the risk as there will always be an element of worry every time the ball heads towards the pair but it will have to do for the time being. The optimum partnership for the long-term has to be Zouma and Rudiger – that’s a combination of brute strength, speed and power. Both players are 6 foot 3 and have contrasting weights with Zouma at 96kg and Rudiger at 85kg. They could compliment each other quite nicely.
Zouma has looked like a different player to the one that played regularly for Mourinho and back then he was only just leaving his teenage years. Now he’s matured, has a wealth of Premier League experience under his belt and has started to be recognised internationally which is some feat when you consider that they’ve got La Liga duo Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti to choose from.
When delving into the stats from last season, Zouma performed better at Everton than his central defensive counterparts in most facets. The 24-year-old averaged 1.7 interceptions per game – more than Rudiger and Luiz‘s 1 per game last season as well as Christensen’s 1.4 per game he recorded in the 17/18 season. Zouma also won more aerial duels at 3.1 per game than Rudiger (2.5). Luiz (2.3) and Christensen (2.3).
Zouma seems like the ideal option for Lampard this season.