Chelsea boss Antonio Conte made his first significant move of the January transfer window by recalling Nathan Ake, but is he ahead of Kurt Zouma in the pecking order?
With the Premier League progressing into the business end of the season, fitness levels will be stretched and squad depth called upon. Given this, Antonio Conte has recalled the impressive Nathan Ake from his loan spell with Bournemouth. Is Ake ahead of fellow youngster Kurt Zouma in the pecking order?
This was the subject of a debate on The Blue Lions podcast (iTunes link). POL contributor Dan McClue felt that Ake would be first in line ahead of his French colleague, not least as a consequence of the latter’s injury problems.
"Zouma is as proven as Ake, especially after last season, but because of the injury, we don’t know how well the knee has healed. He seemed a little off the pace [against Peterborough] so I’d say Ake gets the nod."
This was a sentiment further supported by POL and The Cauldron contributor, Andre Carlisle. The demands of Conte’s three-man defence renders Zouma a greater liability than the match-ready Ake.
"Playing in a back three is so much different to playing in a back four…You have to ease him in given his confidence and everything else that may have gone…There may be more of a contest between them in the long-term, but for this season I think Ake is immediately ahead of Zouma."
These opinions illustrate just how far Ake has developed in the last five months. The Dutchman had some impressive moments during his loan spell at Watford last season, but he was not ready for a Chelsea role. At Bournemouth, he has proven that he can be a rock in a Premier League defence.
His versatility and skills on the ball make him a candidate for either a centre-back, or a wingback role. With Chelsea’s lack of depth at both positions, Ake represents a significant reinforcement as the Blues chase a league and cup double.
For Zouma, though, this represents the harsh reality. He was one of the few shining lights during the 2015/16 campaign, but his cruel knee injury has forced him to start again. As a youngster, he will hopefully not suffer any lingering effects, but the nature of the injury causes concerns.
Given that, Ake does appear to be the smarter option should one of Conte’s starters be unavailable. What do you think? Let us know your thoughts on the Ake-Zouma duel in the comments below!