Inside Blue Tue 26 Sep 2017
Saturday's result at the Bet365 Stadium may not have been so cut and dried had Kurt Zouma been involved for Stoke – find out how the Frenchman has already made his presence felt in the Potteries…
The Blues centre-half moved to the Midlands this summer on a season-long loan deal at the same time as it was announced he had agreed a new six-year contract at Stamford Bridge.
However, he was ineligible to face his parent club on Saturday, when Alvaro Morata enjoyed his best afternoon in a Chelsea shirt to net his first hat-trick in English football.
Zouma’s absence was keenly felt and having performed so impressively for Chelsea before injury hit in 2016, he has stood out as perhaps the Potters’ most consistent player so far this term.
‘We are very lucky to have him and the fans can see that,’ said assistant manager Mark Bowen. ‘In the dressing room he’s a good character with a smile on his face every day.
‘He’s one of those players you look at in the build up to games and you look at your team sheet and think we’ll be all right with Kurt Zouma in the side.
‘Sometimes you get big players who have a casualness about them, but he hasn’t got that. He’s on the front foot all the time as a defender, then when he’s got the ball he’s got that drive.
‘I remember the West Brom game when we went a goal down; the next three times he got the ball he travelled about 40 yards to the edge of their box, almost to carry the team forward.
‘You could almost see in the body language of the players, they look at him and think: “Yeah, we can’t just sit back and accept it, we can push on and make something happen.”
‘I think that mentality probably comes from growing at a place like Chelsea where you are probably expected to win every game.’
Zouma was the cover star for Stoke’s matchday programme on Saturday, a publication which also featured a lengthy interview with the French centre-back. Among other things, he addressed the praise from Bowen.
‘It is nice to hear those comments, of course, but it is the same for me too, because I feel really happy here,’ he said. ‘I have done since the very moment I first walked through the doors – this was the perfect place for me to come to.
‘I am here to play football, which I have been doing and I am enjoying the work I am doing each day and being part of this talented group of players.’