Does Kurt Zouma have a long-term future in the Chelsea midfield?

Kurt Zouma

Kurt Zouma played in defensive midfield for Chelsea in the League Cup Final.

The young Frenchman put in a solid display for the Blues in his new role, making no mistakes but doing nothing of note to excel.

He fulfilled all the basic defensive duties expected of a holding player - he won five aerial duels, one tackle and four interceptions - but did not display the on-the-ball quality of a natural midfielder. Unlike first-choice Nemanja Matic, who will dribble the ball out of tricky situations, the 20-year-old played like a centre-half, and regularly sent the ball away from danger with a pitch-long punt.

Whilst the finesse was not there in Zouma’s first game as a makeshift anchorman, the potential to develop that as his main role was certainly on show.

At the age of 26-years-old, Matic has many years ahead of him as a top level defensive midfielder, but his game is based upon his energy to press as well as his tackling ability. Rather than shield play, he often roams forward to assist the attack, and the space he leaves behind him is the only weakness of his game - although that is due to the two-man pivot system, rather than any fault of his own.

If he were playing in a three-man midfield, one would expect an anchorman to sit alongside Matic and provide real defensive shielding as he roams forward. Zouma could be this player, with no need to be too technical as he carries out his defensive duties. He is still rather rash with his possession decisions, but with age comes experience, and he will undoubtedly learn to make the right choice with the ball.

The weakness of moving Zouma into midfield comes from his strength in the centre of defence. Considered one of the best centre-back prospects in the game, the Frenchman’s main role is that which he has played for years, and his growth will be stunted if shifted into an unfamiliar role. The same thing happened with John Obi Mikel on his arrival at Stamford Bridge, and he has never hit the heights expected of him after moving from an attacking to defensive midfield position.

If Zouma was to move forward, there is no natural replacement for John Terry in the Blues ranks, and the back-line would suffer because of it. There is no point risking a brilliant defensive prospect in the hope of potentially creating a good midfield prospect.

Zouma showed enough in the victory over Spurs to suggest that he could become a top level defensive midfielder in the future, and it would come as no surprise to see Jose Mourinho utilise the youngster in that position again. However, the coach would be unwise to permanently change Zouma into a midfielder, when his talents have been so well displayed in the back-line.

For the good of the player, and of Chelsea’s future success, Zouma should remain a centre-half - as he develops into one of the best defenders in world football.

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