Stoke City captain Ryan Shawcross has labelled his centre-back partner Kurt Zouma as the 'ultimate defender', claiming that the Chelsea loanee is one of the top two central defenders in England.
23-year-old Zouma joined the Potters on a season-long loan deal during the summer, and has since become an ever present figure for Mark Hughes's side having played in every league game this season - with the only exception coming against his parent club in September.
The defenders seamless transition at the bet365 Stadium has caught the attention of Shawcross, who has played alongside Zouma this season and watched him from the sidelines throughout his injury layoff.
Shawcross told the Stoke Sentinel: “He’s quick, he can jump really high, he can pass the ball, he can shoot, he doesn’t get beat one-v-one. He’s like the ultimate defender.
"I think Toby Alderweireld and Kurt are the top two centre-halves in the country at the moment.
Such is the talent Zouma possesses, Shawcross admitted he was surprised that Antonio Conte deemed the 23-year-old as surplus to requirements, but was grateful to the relationship which exists between the two clubs - Zouma is now the third loanee from the Blues in recent seasons, following Victor Moses and Marco van Ginkel.
He added: "I wasn't surprised we got him because obviously we've got a good link with Chelsea, but I was surprised they let him go just because they've not had the greatest starts and I really do think he's going to turn out to be one of the top centre-halves in the country.
“For them to let him go to us is fantastic for us, but surprising.
“I think Kurt has done brilliantly. He’s played a lot of games previously and it’s a great test for him to come here.
“He’s experienced things he probably hasn’t done at Chelsea, tough losses. I don’t think he will ever get beat by seven goals at Chelsea, so it’s difficult, but it’s good for his character and experience as a footballer.”