Kurt Zouma 'not only the future, he's the present' at Chelsea - Antonio Conte
LONDON -- Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte admits there is still no firm date for Kurt Zouma's return to first-team action, but says he is excited by the prospect of having the Frenchman available for selection again.
Zouma has not kicked a ball competitively for the Blues since rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a Premier League match against Manchester United on Feb. 8, though he did join Conte's squad on preseason trips to Austria and the United States this summer.
Initially expected to be sidelined for around six months after undergoing surgery to repair the damage, Zouma's recovery has taken longer than anticipated and Chelsea's deadline day signings of David Luiz and Marcos Alonso have led some to suggest that the 21-year-old does not feature prominently in Conte's plans.
Conte insists that Luiz's arrival will have no bearing on Zouma's first-team prospects when he returns to fitness, though the Italian remains reluctant to speculate on precisely when the Frenchman will play again.
"For us, Zouma is not only the future, he's the present," Conte said. "We are waiting on his recovery. He's a good player, very young and he can improve a lot.
"It's difficult to answer [the question of when Zouma will return]. He's recovering and in good shape, but I think he needs a bit of time to come back to play.
"He has to train with us every day. I'm pleased to see that he's improving a lot and I am waiting on Zouma with great happiness."
Zouma is Conte's only injury absentee as Chelsea prepare to take on Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, bidding to avenge last season's 1-0 defeat under Guus Hiddink and maintain their perfect start to the season.
"I watched the game [that Chelsea lost 1-0]," Conte added. "We know that it won't be an easy game and we are prepared. We are working very hard to arrive at this game in the best condition, because we know it will be very tough.
"We know that last season we lost many times, not just against Swansea, and for this reason we want to work hard not to repeat last season.
"I don't want to speak about the past. I want to speak about the present. If you ask me about Swansea, I can tell you that we don't repeat the defeat of last season, because for me it's important to build in the present something for the future.
"I don't care about the past, because the past is history now."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.