Defending champions Chelsea have been a shambles so far this season. The side represents an anti thesis of any Jose Mourinho side, with apparent defensive inabilities that teams have exploited. A side that conceded a mere 32 goals all of the last season has shipped 17 goals in 8 games (Only one less than Sunderland) and Jose Mourinho will be looking to find the right balance to stop the flow into the goals.
Kurt Zouma has been hailed to be the successor to John Terry. At just 20 years old, the Frenchman has already earned the faith of hard to please Jose Mourinho. However, despite having experience glimpses of his talent, Zouma has not been faultless. So, how good or bad has Zouma been?
After being used in bits and pieces last season, Zouma has featured often this season starting 9 games across major competitions. His passing has always been tidy and that trend continues. He has misplaced just 2 short passes in the league and the Champions League. The goal he scored against Arsenal in what was the side’s only second win in the league so far, adds some positive attacking points to his profile.
It is his performance at the other end of the pitch that leaves us worried. He is monstrous in the air, there is no denying that and his numbers speak for themselves. He has won an incredible 24 out of the 38 aerial duels he has entered into(63%). That was never the point of our contention that he is actually having a mediocre season so far. If I said he was not doing the right things on the ground, you would probably throw me a stat 55% tackling success rate. While he might have been highly efficient going into tackles, a look at all the previous games suggest that he isn’t frequent going into them, even when presented with numerous opportunities. One of the goals that comes to my mind was the goal scored by Steven Naismith from outside the box. Everyone went up in arms blaming it on Ivanovic, but have a look at that goal and Zouma could have gotten closer and blocked the path of Scottish attacker. This feature of his game has reoccurred this season and will continue to haunt this Chelsea side unless the managerial staff and Zouma work in unison to identify his blind spot for crucial tackles.
Another point of concern is the young defenders unawareness of the happenings in the box. Go back to game against Everton and the first Naismith goal. Zouma lost Naismith, the cross came in did nothing to prevent it from getting into the 6 yard box and Naismith had a simple tap in to complete. The story repeated against Newcastle, when he did not attempt to block a cross that came into the box only to find the ball at the back of the net (Reference- Ayoze Perez’ goal).
He has been pretty handy at clearing the ball out of danger, doing so on 44 occasions. He does not make enough interceptions, nor blocks (8 interceptions) and 3 blocks in 11 appearances so far. To be fair to Zouma, he is calm on the ball and shown an ability to bring the ball out of defense (they are a very rare breed of defenders). With pace to burn and strength to hold off almost any player in the league, he could turn out to be one of the top centre-backs in the league within a few years.
However, he will take time to establish his identity and that will come at a cost. The set up at Chelsea would not be as forgiving as it has been to players in the recent past. The Frenchman will have a testing time but this could turn out to be the foundation for the greater things.
Footnote- I know I have been critical of Zouma. In all fairness to me, I have not even dwelled upon the two defensive errors committed by the defender as per Squawka stats.