Tom Cann reports on a welcome comeback for a Chelsea star
Kurt Zouma made his return to football as Chelsea U23s faced Derby County in the Premier League 2 at the EBB Stadium in Aldershot on Monday night.
Chelsea went into this game on the back of a 3-2 loss to League Two side Exeter City, in the Checkatrade Trophy during the week, while their opponents arrived from a 2-2 draw with Sunderland U23s in the Premier League 2.
Zouma had been out of football since February 2016, when he picked up an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury in a match against Manchester United.
The first 10 minutes were largely dominated by Chelsea, with one shot flying over the bar from striker Ike Ugbo, after Trevor Chalobah played through Jay Dasilva on the left wing, who used his pace to get round the Derby defence.
The first real scare for Derby however, came when Isaac Christie-Davies found himself in a dangerous position on the edge of the Derby box, and managed to strike a low ball through four of the Rams defenders, only for it to reach Derby keeper Jonathan Mitchell’s grasp.
Five minutes after, Chelsea were in another dangerous position, with Ugbo finding himself in a race to the ball with keeper Mitchell, but fortunately for the Derby defence, the man in goal managed to get to the ball first and clear, bringing down Ugbo in the process, which sparked calls for a penalty from the spectators.
Just seconds after this, Christie-Davies picked up the first yellow of the game after he went in late on Timi Elsnik.
Chelsea’s first real scare came in the 25th minute, when Derby striker Mason Bennett was found inside the box. Bennett was about to take a shot at the Chelsea goal, but Blues defender Zouma managed to get a foot in and make a fantastic tackle.
The first goal of the game came in the 39th minute, after Zouma brought down Rams’ striker Charles Vernam in the box, giving away a penalty. Vernam stepped up to take the spot kick, but Bradley Collins managed to get a hand to it, only for it to go straight into the path of Derby midfielder Callum Guy, who tucked the ball away for the first goal of the game.
A half-time change was made for the losing team, with impressive youngster Dujon Sterling coming on for Zouma.
A chance came very early in the half for Chelsea after Sterling made a run towards goal and crossed it low into the area, but Josh Lelan for Derby got a foot on it, and almost turned it into his own net, but luckily for him, it went just wide.
Chelsea pressed early in the second half, with Sterling again making advancements on the right wing, and crossing into Ugbo, who couldn’t get his shot away properly, leading to a goal kick for Derby.
Derby’s first opportunity of the second half came when Timi Elsnik went on a storming run through the centre of the pitch, and striking the ball with his ferocious right foot, but the ball flew high over the crossbar, not troubling Collins in the Chelsea goal.
Sterling once again made a fantastic run, batting off Derby defenders, but being muscled out of it by Lelan who cleared it for a corner. The corner in question came to nothing, after Chelsea kept trying to get at the defence.
Chelsea’s pressure paid off in the 62nd minute, when Sterling, once again, found himself behind the Derby defence, only to be taken down inside the area. Referee Alan Young awarded Chelsea a penalty, and Jay Dasilva put the ball away from the spot.
Just minutes later, Chelsea went 2-1 up through striker Ugbo, after Dasilva did well on the left wing, paying it inside to Ugbo, who had time to steady himself, and stroke the ball neatly into the back of the net over Mitchell.
Chelsea’s lead didn’t last long however, as Derby defender Farrend Rawson put the ball in the back of the net, after he found himself unmarked in the area from a set piece.
Chelsea kept going to get the lead, and Sterling managed to get behind the Derby defence and get a shot away, but Mitchell in the Derby goal got strong hands to it and tipped the ball away. This led to to a counter attack from Derby, but nothing came from it.
Chelsea’s chances of taking the match and the three points hit a bump in the 70th minute however, as Dasilva (who had an up and down match) saw a second yellow for a pull back on Jamie Hanson.
Hanson himself was then shown a yellow card in the 78th minute for a very late challenge on Fankaty Dabo, which was seen in the crowd’s eyes as a challenge worthy of a straight red card.
Mason Mount almost broke the deadlock for Chelsea with 10 minutes to go, but his shot was deflected wide and out for a corner.
Chelsea kept pushing to the last, and Sterling almost put the ball in the net, but Lelan got a foot to it, just before Mount could capitalise, and it was kicked behind for a corner.
The match finished even but Chelsea will be disappointed with the result, since they were the better team for a vast majority of the game, and with Sterling changing the game completely in Chelsea’s favour.
FULL TIME: CHELSEA 2-2 DERBY
Chelsea Starting 11
Collins, Dabo, Zouma, Tomori, Chalobah, Scott, Ali, Sammut, Ugbo, Christie-Davies, Dasilva.
Subs: Sterling (45’ Zouma), Baxter, Mount (73’ Christie-Davies), Muheim (79’ Sammut), Maddox
Derby Starting 11:
Mitchell, Stabana, MacDonald, Hanson, Rawson, Lelan, Gordon, Guy, Bennett, Elsnik, Vernam
Subs: Walker (90’ Bennett), Ravas, Babos (77’ Elsnik), Cover (53’ MacDonald), Jakobsen.