Next up in our player by player review of the past Everton season, in which each individual will be recapped and rated is: Kurt Zouma
When Everton announced the loan acquisition of Kurt Zouma on August 10, just one day before the start of the season, the implications were a little unclear. The general consensus around the Frenchman was that he was a good player, but with Yerry Mina already in the fold, where would he fit?
The following day, Phil Jagielka took a first-half red card in Everton’s season opener, and Michael Keane was forced to drag around the brainless husk of Mason Holgate for 45 minutes. With Mina injured, Jagielka old, and Holgate Holgate, Zouma immediately became an important figure.
And so it was for most of the season — Zouma partnered with Keane to become one of the most effective open-play defenses in the Premier League this season. Only Jordan Pickford, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Keane, Lucas Digne, and Idrissa Gueye played more minutes for Everton this season.
It took him a few games to get going, but once he got accustomed to his new (temporary) club, Zouma was one of the top performers of the season. It’s always hard to measure center-backs based on stats, simply because a team’s play-style dictates its defenders stats much more than the defender’s actual quality.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Zouma is that often times, he completely fades from recognition during matches. Multiple times this season, a match ended and I thought to myself, “boy, I hardly noticed Kurt Zouma today.” That’s generally an indication that he’s positioning himself well enough that he’s neither getting beaten badly, nor needing to make last-ditch tackles.
That said, he was in the lineup regularly during Everton’s period of set piece defense struggles. While the issue was primarily organizational issues, rather than individual error, no player can completely escape blame for that rough patch. For a player of his size, he’s also not as big a threat on attacking set pieces as perhaps he ought to be.
When Everton is at its best, it’s high pressing the living hell out of opponents. We talk a lot about how that affects the attackers and midfielders, but a successful press relies just as much on its defenders’ ability to put out fires caused by long balls over the top.
The high forward and midfield lines mean that the defensive line sits high as well, with opponents often resorting to launching direct balls over the top. Zouma — both with his intelligent positioning and physical athleticism — did an excellent job of tracking runners on long balls that bypassed the midfield. Given that his partner most of the season was Michael Keane — who is not as slow as people tend to think, but certainly isn’t exactly fleet of foot either — that ability is absolutely crucial.
Zouma’s stay at Everton was only a one-year loan, so he’s back off to Chelsea — at least for now. Marco Silva and Marcel Brands surely would love to bring him back, and would probably even overpay to do so.
But the situation at Chelsea is unclear to say the least. Who will be managing there next year? If there’s a new manager, how will he value his current corps of center-backs — David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, and the various members of the Chelsea loan army? Will the transfer ban really hold up, and prevent Chelsea from adding players this offseason?
I suspect in the end Chelsea will be handcuffed by the transfer ban, and forced to keep Zouma around even if they don’t rate him all that highly — even if it’s just to replace the corpse of Gary Cahill. It’ll be an utter shame if it comes to that, because the Frenchman has more than proven he’s capable of playing at a high level in the Premier League.