Chelsea: Kurt Zouma’s call-up should make Blues reconsider plans for defence

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16: Everton player Kurt Zouma in action during the Premier League match between Everton FC and West Ham United at Goodison Park on September 16, 2018 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16: Everton player Kurt Zouma in action during the Premier League match between Everton FC and West Ham United at Goodison Park on September 16, 2018 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images) /

Chelsea will not see Kurt Zouma play on Sunday, but they should take more time to watch him closely. France called him up, which the Blues should take note of before extending David Luiz.

Not that France’s national team has any particularly weak areas, but their depth at centre-back makes Kurt Zouma’s call-up all the more impressive. Simply among Premier League defenders, Zouma came out ahead of Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte for a spot in France’s squad this month.

Didier Deschamps sees Zouma not as a midtable defender, but one capable of lining up with the defending World Cup champions. Chelsea should take a cue from Deschamps and scout Zouma until they recognize this as well. Zouma’s call-up came a few days after rumours emerged of the Blues’ plan to extend David Luiz for one more year. Regardless of the transfer ban, Chelsea should bring Zouma back to Stamford Bridge to enter the competition with Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen for the two starting spots.

Whatever it is Chelsea think they need another year of Luiz for, they can get it from Antonio Rudiger with a little help from midfield. Rudiger’s long balls – particularly on the diagonal – are as accurate and well-timed as Luiz’s. Rudiger is comfortable dribbling the ball up-field and playing ahead of the defensive line when Chelsea are in sustained possession, with one of the full-backs dropping back to cover for him.

Particularly with a centre-back partner like Andreas Christensen or Kurt Zouma, Rudiger can contribute as much on offence – open play and set pieces – as Luiz, with none of the risks the Brazilian brings. Rudiger leaves the opponent’s box before he overstays his welcome, he picks up his markers before they cross midfield at full pace and he has a better sense of his tactical duties and positioning relative to the other defenders.

Luiz’s unique contribution – what Rudiger, Christensen and Zouma would not be able to reproduce – is his stand-in role as deep-lying playmaker. Between every opponent figuring out how to mark Jorginho out of the play or using Jorginho’s predictability and limited range against Chelsea, Luiz has become Chelsea’s pass-master. Luiz has the passing range, vision and – at times – accuracy to set the play running from deep.

If Maurizio Sarri takes the time to actually train Jorginho, recognizes the expanded range of options Mateo Kovacic brings to the role or miraculously shifts to a different formation (or if Sarri is not the one making such decisions), Chelsea will not need a centre-back to cover the deep-lying playmaker responsibilities.

Without that extraneous burden on the centre-backs, they can return to their proper functions as centre-backs.

Rudiger is emerging as one of Chelsea’s best on-pitch leaders. He has the experience and the presence to be one of the club captains, and has shown this season he is unafraid to direct and correct his teammates during the game.

This undercuts the argument for retaining David Luiz for another year for his dubious experience and leadership. Even if Chelsea did not see him as more than a domestic cup starter for next year, that is still a slot that could go to Jake Clarke-Salter or even Matt Miazga.

But enough about David Luiz.

Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger would be a formidable three-man rotation / competition for a back-four, and would be a solid back-three if that formation returns to Stamford Bridge. Antonio Rudiger remains the best all-around option for the Blues. The real battle would be between Zouma and Christensen, although the three complement each other along several dimensions. Maurizio Sarri would have all the options he could need against specific opponents.

Chelsea could shed a liability, all while creating the basis for a long-time defensive partnership, something the Blues recently had and have flopped and floundered without. Of course, Sarri would have to part with one of his favourites, and we know how unlikely that is.

We’ve said several times now that, in the absence of a technical director (494 days), Chelsea should out-source their transfer and loan decision-making. The Blues should look to see who other clubs want and then go for that player themselves (see also: Piatek, Krzysztof).

Next. Olivier Giroud hat trick offers new case for another year in Blue. dark

Didier Deschamps is just the sort of manager Chelsea should be taking cues from. If he says Kurt Zouma is good enough to play among Les Bleus, Chelsea should bring him home to play among The Blues.