Kurt Zouma believes his solid season at Everton last term has provided him with the perfect springboard to challenge for a place in the Chelsea team under new boss Frank Lampard.

The French international spent 2018/19 on loan at Goodison Park, featuring 36 times for Marco Silva’s side as the Toffees finished eighth in the Premier League. It followed a full season at Stoke City and proved the ideal step up in competitiveness as he established himself as a regular at the heart of defence, either in a back three or four.

His return to Stamford Bridge has coincided with the appointment of Lampard as our new head coach, as well as the departure of Gary Cahill. The timing allied with Zouma’s individual improvement over the past two years means the 24-year old now feels ready to fight for his place again.

Lampard spoke recently about his plans for Zouma this season, remarking: ‘He’s a very good defender for us, a very good person and a professional. We are competitive with the centre-backs we have in the team and he had a very good season at Everton so I can understand why they want him but he’s a Chelsea player and I want him.’

Those reassuring words of praise have clearly encouraged Zouma and he admits he wants to ignore the transfer speculation and focus solely on performances in the weeks ahead.

‘There is a lot of talk but I’m a Chelsea player and the most important thing is to work, play well in pre-season and take my chances,’ he said.

‘I’m happy with what he said about me because it means he’s pleased with the work I’m doing.’

The defender has played in all three of our pre-season games so far, sharing centre-back minutes with David Luiz, Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori as the focus remains on building towards match fitness. He spoke to Lampard earlier in the summer and acknowledges that competition for a starting spot is tough.

‘We had a chat and he’s been very good with me so now I just need to work very hard in pre-season and see what happens,’ Zouma continued. ‘Of course there’s competition here because we have a lot of players, a lot of quality and everybody is working hard, which you can see in the games and training sessions.

‘The manager can put any player in the team and they will do well because we have a lot of quality here so he has to make the choice. He is very lucky because he has only good players so it’s a hard choice.’

Zouma’s last competitive appearance in a Chelsea shirt was in May 2017, at the end of a season in which he made his return from a knee ligament injury that kept him sidelined for nine months. Consecutive Premier League campaigns have demonstrated that his fitness and performance levels are back to their peak and he cites an enjoyable and productive season on Merseyside as evidence to back up that claim.

‘I had a very good season and really enjoyed my time there,’ he reflects on his time as an Everton player. ‘I met some good players and worked with a good manager so I feel everything in my game as a defender has improved.

‘I just wanted to play week-in, week-out and by going there, that’s what I did. I improved myself technically and tactically in every aspect. I still have a lot to learn but I’ve done a lot since my injury and I’m very happy with it.’

The Frenchman will be hoping to feature once again today as we take on Barcelona in Japan. Supporters in the UK and Ireland can watch live via a stream on this website or on our 5th Stand app.