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Chelsea to be patient with “fantastic” Zouma – Conte

The Blues boss confirmed that his returning defender is available for Sunday’s Premier League clash, but wants to ease him back after serious injury.

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Antonio Conte has confirmed that Kurt Zouma will be eased back after an anterior cruciate ligament injury, despite making his return to football with the Under-23 side.

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Zouma has come through three games for Adi Viveash’s Under-23 unscathed and trained in full sessions for several weeks with the first team, but won’t be rushing back the France international with his full squad fit.

Despite being fit, Zouma won’t travel to Middlesbrough as Conte wants to ease the 22-year-old back into form with Chelsea’s current back three having kept five successive clean sheets with John Terry deputising on the bench. Conte confirmed that he is happy to have Zouma back in his squad.

“I’m happy to have this availability of the central defenders. It’s important that Kurt is back with us and, in training, he’s in good form,” Conte told a press conference at Cobham Training Centre.

“But it’s normal that, when you arrive after a bad injury, you need a bit of time to recover the best form. For this reason, we prefer Kurt in this period to play the games with the Under-23s. On Monday he plays with the Under-23s.

“It’s important to have game-time in this period. It’s good, it’s fantastic, to have another good player like Kurt Zouma available again.”

Zouma will play against Southampton Under-23s on Monday at Cobham Training Centre and will likely make his first appearances for the first team in December, when Chelsea’s fixture list gets busier.

Terry has been struggling to get starts with the likes of David Luiz and Gary Cahill in such good form.

Conte confirmed that he has faith in his club’s captain to play 3-4-3 – despite dropping him to the bench since his switch of formation in October.

“John is in good shape. Also he can play in this formation. He can play easily (in this formation).”

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