Chelsea's Kurt Zouma makes injury return in under-23 draw with Derby

Kurt Zouma played his first competitive football in almost nine months as Chelsea under-23s were held to a 2-2 draw by Derby County in Monday's Premier League 2 clash.

Goals from Derby youngsters Callum Guy and Farrend Rawson cancelled out strikes from Blues academy prospects Jay Dasilva and Ike Ugbo at the Recreation Ground, but the big story of the match was that Zouma, 21, came through the opening 45 minutes unscathed as he steps up his recovery.

The defender has not featured since rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a Premier League clash with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in February -- an injury that cut short his season with Chelsea and ruled him out of France's Euro 2016 squad.

Zouma has participated in certain training drills with the rest of the Chelsea first-team squad since the beginning of preseason, accompanying Antonio Conte's group to Austria and the United States, but he has only resumed full-contact training at Cobham recently as the Blues take every possible precaution with him.

Zouma took to Twitter after the U23 game to express his gratitude for all the support he has received during his time on the sidelines.

Chelsea teammate Michy Batshuayi and Blues legend Didier Drogba congratulated Zouma on his return to action.

The boss @kurtzouma is back and for for those who don't speak English.....The Boss @kurtzouma is back!!!������������ ���� Bon en gros il, @kurtzouma est De retour #TacleGlisséPuisRelevéDansLaSecondeSuivante #tupeuxpastest #zoumzoum #fils #monsieurmuscles

A photo posted by didierdrogba (@didierdrogba) on

Chelsea have struggled defensively for much of Zouma's time on the sidelines, though Conte's recent switch to a 3-4-3 system has yielded Premier League victories over Hull City, Leicester City and Manchester United, along with three clean sheets.

John Terry has also been restricted to the bench since recovering from strained ankle ligaments, though the 35-year-old is likely to make his first appearance in five weeks when Chelsea face West Ham at the London Stadium in the EFL Cup fourth round on Wednesday.

Zouma remains some way off his own first-team return, and will continue to feature in development matches while he builds up his match fitness and adjusts to Conte's tactical demands in training at Cobham.