In the aftermath of Chelsea’s fantastic victory in Amsterdam, plaudits are pouring in for this young, exciting team. The senior, more experienced players such as Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Cesar Azpilicueta stepped up the plate and brought a real composure and experience to this youthful Chelsea side. On the flipside, the youth showed a real maturity playing away to last years semi-finalists with stellar performances from Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and of course, Fikayo Tomori. One developing story is the emergence of the centre back partnership of Tomori and Kurt Zouma. With Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen still not fit, these two young defenders have developed quite a rapport at centre back combining strength and pace for a solid partnership which is really taking off.
It has been an awfully long road for Zouma to get to where is he right now. After breaking into the Chelsea team in the disastrous 15/16 season, his rise was cut short due to the horrific ACL injury he suffered to his right knee. Of course, his road to recovery was an incredibly long process which featured two loans – one at Stoke and then a very successful loan at Everton.
Those loans helped him to recover back to playing his best football since the injury which has seen him hold down a place in this Chelsea team and be recalled to the French national team. So far this season, he’s featured 13 times in four different competitions.
His main strengths are there for all to see. His aerial presence is something we’ve missed at centre back for a long time now and it means we are more of a threat in the opposition’s box from set pieces. Of course, he isn’t the most gifted on the ball and probably is the worst centre back we have on the ball. His physicality definitely outweighs his technical ability.
The rise of Tomori has been well documented; last years Player of the Year at Derby under Frank Lampard has transitioned into the top level so effortlessly and at 21, hopefully we are looking at a centre back in this team for the next ten years.
Following the departure of David Luiz to Arsenal and injuries to Christensen and Rudiger, it has allowed Tomori to come into this Chelsea team and make the centre back role his own. Being thrust into the limelight from Championship football last year was always going to be an incredibly tough test, but he has impressed pundits and fans everywhere with his mature performances so far.
His pace, composure on the ball and calmness in one on one situations is something I didn’t expect to see so early on in his Chelsea career. Last night’s performance highlighted it even further. Despite a nervy start giving the ball away on the halfway line, he composed himself where many young players would perhaps crumble on the big stage. For me he is the epitome of the modern day centre back, someone who isn’t just a brute but someone who can play and he has shown that he is tremendously well rounded.
Why This Partnership Works
Having a centre back partnership is the key to a solid defence. Having that relationship with someone means they know each others strengths and weaknesses and knowing when to cover each other and work as a team. Having a settled back two is so important and when any team finds that, you reap the rewards.
Back to back clean sheets with Newcastle at home dealing with a very physical threat and then away to Ajax against a much more technical threat shows that they have dealt with different types of attacks and as the season continues they will come up against tougher tests and different types of tests. I believe the experiences in the Super Cup and in the league against Liverpool have been really important for not just them but the whole team in terms of realising the levels that they need to be at against the top teams.
Going forward, I do believe Rudiger will come back into the lineup. But as of right now, there is no reason to change to this partnership. Not that Lampard really can because of injuries. However, when Rudiger and Christensen come back there will be that aire of pressure knowing that places are up for grabs especially with Rudiger desperate to come back into what has been his position for two years. I believe these two really compliment each other and they can deal with physical threats and technical threats. The more these two play together the better they will get, it’s as simple as that. As of right now, this is our centre back partnership and Christensen and Rudiger have a real job to break back into this Chelsea team.