Scouting Report: Grading Chelsea Defender Kurt Zouma's Season at Saint-Etienne

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Scouting Report: Grading Chelsea Defender Kurt Zouma's Season at Saint-Etienne
Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

Chelsea signed Saint-Etienne's 19-year-old French defender Kurt Zouma in the January transfer window for £12 million and loaned him back to the Ligue 1 club. Here is a scouting report which will grade his performance this season. 


Zouma is one of the best young players in France, per French Football Weekly.


Zouma is a 6'2", 187-pound defender who starts predominantly at centre-back, but has filled in at right-back. 


Zouma possesses phenomenal physical tangibles: strong upper body, incredible leaping ability and great stamina. 

The rare combination of height, mobility and power in a top-flight teenage defender is why Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho pulled the trigger to buy Zouma on the January transfer deadline day. 

"If we don't do it now, probably we can't do it in the summer because other clubs were also very strong on him [Zouma]," Mourinho said, per "He's a player with big potential, physically ready."

An example of Zouma being "physically ready" for the Premier League was his waist being at the shoulders of Bordeaux's 6'4" centre-forward Cheick Diabate during a contested header. 


Zouma is a clearance-centric defender, who is at times unbeatable in head-to-head aerial duels.



League Only Headers Won Contested Headers Headers Won % Headers Won Per Game
David Luiz 41 67 61.2 2.2
Gary Cahill 105 150 70 3.5
John Terry 99 152 65.1 2.9
Kenneth Omeruo 49 70 70 3.5
Kurt Zouma 54 70 77.1 2.3

Zouma strives to be a secure, high-percentage and responsive defender which is why he only conceded 0.5 free-kicks per game. 

He anticipates and uses his length and sheer athleticism to alter shots. 

This was evident when his last-ditched intervention unsettled Toulouse right wing-back Serge Aurier, who lost his footing upon shooting. 


Look how high Zouma jumps to challenge Guingamp right-winger Claudio Beauvue's overhead kick. 



Zouma's conservative approach to defending means he is not a prolific ball-winner. 

League Only Tackles Per Game Fouls Per Game Tackles Per Foul Interceptions Per Game
David Luiz 1.2 1.4 0.8 1.3
Gary Cahill 1.1 0.4 2.8 1.0
John Terry 0.9 0.4 2.1 1.0
Kenneth Omeruo 3.1 0.9 3.7 1.9
Kurt Zouma 0.9 0.5 1.7 0.6

Cahill, Terry and Zouma are centre-backs, who cover and drop deep to minimise the chance of the back-four being exposed. 

Luiz neither consistently stops opposing players or adequately covers the defence. 

Zouma is in a tough situation because he needs to beat out Cahill, a PFA Team of the Year member, or Terry, the club captain. 

Omeruo fits the proactive centre-back Mourinho should look for to compliment either Cahill or Terry. 

Now whether or not Omeruo is ready for the Premier League is another discussion. 

From Zouma's point of view, he is not a stopper and the ramifications he suffered after following through on Sochaux left-forward Thomas Guerbert curtailed any thoughts the 19-year-old had of transitioning into a more all-round defender. 


By the time Zouma's suspension ended, he missed two months of football, was down on match-fitness and was the third-best centre-back at Saint-Etienne behind Loic Perrin and Moustapha Bayal Sall.

Zouma's passes per game, pass completion percentage and interceptions per game decreased compared to the season before. 


This season was not ideal for Zouma: he was suspended, used as a makeshift right-back, benched four times and suffered repeated mental lapses. 

Zouma failed to close down Paris Saint-Germain wide-forward Edinson Cavani, who created a goal for PSG centre-forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic.


Against Marseille, Zouma was oblivious to centre-back Nicolas N'Koulou's run. 

Zouma overreached for a header, missed it and N'Koulou tapped the ball across goal to score. 


A similar situation enabled Lyon centre-forward Bafetimbi Gomis to shoot unchallenged. 


Mourinho stressed that positional awareness must compliment physical prowess. 

"One thing is to be physically ready, another thing is to be tactically ready," Mourinho said, per "Pre-season, he [Zouma] will join us. We will see if it is to stay or if it is to go on loan."

Bottom Line

  • 2013-14 Kurt Zouma Season Grade: C+

When French Football Weekly asked experts Andy Brassell, Didier Roustan, Julien Laurens and Matt Spiro to compile the most promising French-based prospects XI, only Laurens included Zouma. 


Zouma has gone from a can't-miss prospect to a player with noticeable flaws in his game. 

He is a reactive defender whose positioning this season was shoddy. 

He was not even the second-best centre-back at Saint-Etienne, let alone the best, hence the C+ grade. 

Here is why you should give Zouma a pass. 

The fallout from his tackle on Guerbert, the subsequent suspension and the inactivity hindered Zouma from performing at his best this season. 

Zouma has enormous upside and should be able to turn it around.

If he doesn't, he risks becoming another Philippe Christanval.


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