Kurt Zouma’s flamboyant run through the Ajax team when Chelsea were losing to the Dutch side at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night will live long in the memory. Maybe not as long as it might had he hit the net at the end of his thrilling foray forward but regardless of that, the defender’s manager believes it showed how settled he is in the side now.
The 25-year-old has started the last eight games and featured in 17 out of 18 overall having returned to Chelsea after a couple of season away on loan in the Premier League following his recovery from a serious knee injury. He clearly has Lampard’s trust and the boss has looked back on that thrilling piece of play in the Ajax game (which can be watched again in the video below).
‘Kurt had the bravery to step in with the ball,’ he said. ‘We like defenders to step in but sometimes when they step in with too much pace it is a worry with the traffic they are going into, but he had the ability to dodge and double-step over etc. It is not often you see a centre-back like that, and then he converted back to being a centre-back with the finish!
‘That kind of made me laugh,’ Lampard continued, ‘but looking at the bigger picture it showed the confidence Kurt is playing with and as happy as I am with that, I am as happy with how well he has defended in the last period of games.
‘He and Fikayo have formed a really nice partnership and it is great to have Andreas back now, and Toni will be back, because you need numbers in those positions.
‘What Kurt has done, which is not easy, is to go out on loan and people then start to consider you something different from a Chelsea player.
‘I never did. I told him very early in pre-season that he was part of my plans here and I believe in his qualities. I try to give him that confidence and he has got better and better as the season goes on.
‘He is a bit of a leader in the group, strong physically to look at but a quality player, so I am delighted with how he plays.’
Lampard acknowledges that there can be mental obstacles for a player returning to his parent club after lengthy loan spells away, but that Kurt had reason to approach the resumption of his Chelsea career with optimism.
‘He came back off a really good loan at Everton last year and was very well spoken of there. It was great for him to play regular games because you can forget the serious, serious injury he had before that.
‘He needed games, he felt confident in that team, as he should have done, and when he came back here maybe there was a touch of feeling different from the others earlier in the season but very quickly he has shown what he is about.’
Another player Lampard feels is fully settled in at Stamford Bridge now is Mateo Kovacic. There was a difference from Zouma of course as the Croatian was a loan player here last season before joining permanently in the summer.
‘It is common place for foreign players coming to the Premier League to have period of settling in, that is normal,’ Lampard said.
‘From Kovacic I thought there were some really good performances last year. The fact he was in and out the team is never easy but I do think he feels at home now. His personality shines through in the group and he is a very likeable character with a slightly, nice tough side to him on and off the pitch, and he is a really good player.
‘Now the natural progression is scoring goals and we are working on that one. You might see a big smile if he scores, not just from me or him but from the group, because we know he has the quality to score and that will be the next step.’