Zouma: Chelsea’s own Van Dijk is perfect Silva foil

Kurt Zouma of Chelsea and Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool

Ohh Thiago Silva. The Brazilian completed his move to Stamford Bridge last week after his Paris Saint-Germain contract expired. The 35-year-old is a serial winner and brings experience to a youthful Chelsea team.

It’s an exciting time at Stamford Bridge following the arrivals of Ben Chilwell, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech to their ranks already. A calm head at the back could be pivotal in helping the team gel. 

Even without the armband, manager Frank Lampard knows Silva will offer guidance and leadership and this could prove invaluable if Reece James starts at right-back. The big question is who will partner the 89-cap Brazil international? Silva played on the right PSG’s defence last season but he has played on the left in the past. In that regard, Silva is a rarity. 

Now Lampard has to pick from Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen to partner his new signing. Rüdiger is perhaps the favourite to get the nod but Zouma could be the surprise selection. The 25-year-old Frenchman is dominant in the air and could help Silva settle into Premier League life. 

During the 2019/20 campaign, the French international’s aerial win rate put him level with Virgil van Dijk. Across Europe, the Liverpool colossus is the yardstick for centre-backs and he’s one of the big factors in the Reds’ recent success. He’s considered elite in the air and it isn’t hard to see why. For every four aerial duels he contests, he wins three. Few can keep pace with the Dutchman. But Zouma is one of those players. 

The former Everton loanee kept his averages high despite playing on both sides of the Toffees’ defence last term. The Twenty3 Toolbox Insight feature flagged a change in Zouma’s passes by zone map. 

In the first half of the campaign, the spread of Zouma’s passes across the defensive third was fairly even as he played in several positions. However, after the turn of the year, the Saint-Étienne academy graduate was stationed on the left of Chelsea’s defence. That might unsettle some – not Zouma. 

The similarities between Zouma and Van Dijk don’t end there, either. When looking at their aerial duel maps from last season, both players dominate the central ahead just outside their own penalty boxes.

Zouma won 26 of his 28 aerial battles there while Van Dijk triumphed in 45 of 49. On average, the pair both won in excess of 64 per cent of duels in their own penalty area, as well as more than 49 per cent in the opposition’s box. 

Both are goal threats as well as being backboards who repel everything aimed in their direction. 

When looking at what they do in possession, it’s not dissimilar, as highlighted in their passes made maps. 

Interestingly, both are partial to the big switch to their right winger when playing left centre-back. In fact, Zouma and Van Dijk each attempted more than seven long passes per 90, completing more than four. These balls may be viewed as optimistic and high risk but a success rate in excess of 55 per cent can’t be knocked. 

The duo are both in the Premier League’s top 20 for passes attempted while both make the top 15 for passes completed. They recycle the ball well when necessary but aren’t afraid to get creative if an opportunity presents itself. 

Their Dynamic Radars, created in the Twenty3 Content Toolbox, underline their remarkable similarity too.

There’s a preconceived idea Zouma isn’t good enough for a top-four side after loans with Stoke City and Everton. And while defensive metrics are often heavily reliant on volume, Zouma’s numbers, both in terms of per 90s and averages, are eerily similar to what Van Dijk posted as he helped guide Liverpool to the Premier League title.  

This isn’t to suggest Zouma is on the Dutchman’s level but just to highlight how impactful he can be. The 25-year-old could be the perfect foil for the classy Silva, just as Van Dijk’s physicality complimented Joe Gomez. 

All the graphics and visualisations in this article use Wyscout data and were produced in the Twenty3 Content Toolbox.

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