Kurt Zouma, back at the Bridge for 2019/20, takes centre stage as we continue to look at how the season was panning out for each of our players before lockdown.

The 25-year-old has returned from a pair of Premier League loans to be our most selected centre-back this season…

Kurt Zouma: 33 appearances (three as a sub), one goal, one assist, six clean sheets

‘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.’

With 74 Blues appearances to his name before his return from loan spells at Stoke and Everton, Kurt Zouma does not fit into the bracket of other youngsters showcasing their talents at Stamford Bridge for the first time this season, but he is by no means an outlier in terms of coming back to Chelsea and needing to prove his worth to new management, even if Frank Lampard’s words suggest he always had a strong case.

Zouma's return to Chelsea

Zouma signed from Saint-Etienne in January 2014 and joined up with his new team-mates six months later, shortly after Lampard had left the club. His involvement grew more regular until an anterior cruciate ligament in February 2016 left him on the sidelines for nearly a year. His loan moves to fellow top-flight clubs Stoke and then Everton were aimed at bringing him properly up to speed; he impressed in both campaigns, and earned the chance to compete to wear the blue shirt again.

Zouma’s pre-season efforts were such he started the season in the team next to Andreas Christensen. He put a difficult opening day away to Man United behind him with a pair of imposing performances against Liverpool and Leicester. He was particularly impressive in the Super Cup in Istanbul.

Partnership with Tomori

Indeed, the Frenchman was in the starting XI for each of our five fixtures in August. Either side of scoring his only goal so far this season, in a big Carabao Cup victory over Grimsby, Zouma came off the bench in our leagues matches against Wolves and Liverpool, replacing the injured Toni Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. It signalled the start of a pairing next to Fikayo Tomori Lampard would describe as ‘really nice’.

Starting with the big win at Southampton in early October, Zouma and Tomori played nine games in a row next to each other in the league and the Champions League, impressing with their speed, aerial dominance and tackling. The 1-0 win at Ajax was a real standout as we limited one of Europe’s most attacking teams to few chances. In the reverse fixture at the Bridge a fortnight later, Zouma wasn’t far away from scoring one of the greatest Chelsea goals ever!

'Kurt had the bravery to step in with the ball,’ Lampard 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.'

Our next Champions League game was at Valencia, when Zouma set up Christian Pulisic’s second-half goal that helped earn us a vital point.

December was mixed for the team and Zouma, with clean sheets proving hard to come by, but he still remained a regular whether in a back four or three. He played his 100th Chelsea game at Brighton.

Zouma has featured less this calendar year, just five times in all, but he was at the heart of the defence that kept clean sheets against Liverpool and Everton before football stopped. Toni Rudiger was his partner in those games, as Lampard continues to rotate his central defenders. That Zouma has played at least 10 more matches this season than Tomori, Christensen and Rudiger is testament to the quality of his performances and the esteem in which the boss holds him.

Kurt Zouma's Premier League stats 2019/20

Kurt Zouma stats

Kurt Zouma Premier League appearances 2019/20

Kurt Zouma has played 22 games in the Premier League so far in 2019/20.

Kurt Zouma Champions League appearances 2019/20

Kurt Zouma has played six games in the Champions League in 2019/20, all in the group stage.

Kurt Zouma FA Cup appearances 2019/20

Kurt Zouma has played two FA Cup games so far in 2019/20, against Hull and Liverpool in our last two victories.

Kurt Zouma Carabao Cup appearances 2019/20

Kurt Zouma played twice in the Carabao Cup this season.

Kurt Zouma goals 2019/20

Kurt Zouma has scored once so far this season, converting Reece James' cross in the 7-1 thrashing of Grimsby in the Carabao Cup.