Chelsea's long-term injury absentees Kurt Zouma and Marco van Ginkel both took steps towards a potential first-team comeback by featuring for the club's U23 side during a Premier League 2 draw with Everton on Monday evening (31 October).
As confirmed by the official Blues website, both players started and featured for an hour at a foggy Merseyrail Community Stadium in Southport as Adi Viveash's side settled for a share of the spoils after defender Dujon Sterling's early effort was cancelled out by an impressive left-footed finish from Harry Charsley five minutes before the interval.
This was Zouma's second successive outing for the development squad, after he played for 45 minutes and conceded a penalty with a poor challenge on Charles Vernam during last week's 2-2 tie against Derby County at Aldershot's EBB Stadium.
The physical French centre-back had previously been sidelined for nearly nine months after damaging the cruciate ligament in his right knee during February's Premier League clash with Manchester United. He subsequently underwent surgery in Barcelona and was ruled out of contention for France's European Championship campaign on home soil.
"Zouma played a game with the Under 23s and the physical answer was good," manager Antonio Conte, who has watched his side reel off four consecutive top-flight victories without conceding a single goal since switching to his preferred three-man defensive system at the beginning of October, said before that latest appearance against Everton.
"Now we prefer him to play another game on Monday and if it's all okay he will come back to us. I am very happy because I can have another central defender and a good central defender, a young one with great potential."
While Zouma was stepping up his return, Van Ginkel's 60-minute cameo was his first appearance of the season. The Dutch midfielder spent the final three months of 2015-16 on loan at PSV Eindhoven after prematurely ending a disappointing spell with Stoke City and looked set to rejoin the reigning Eredivisie champions for a further year, only to eventually remain at Stamford Bridge in order to receive treatment on his own persistent knee problem.
Former Vitesse Arnhem prodigy and AC Milan loanee Van Ginkel scored eight goals to help Phillip Cocu's PSV claim their second successive title, but has struggled to make an impact at Chelsea since tearing his ACL on his full debut in a third-round League Cup defeat of Swindon Town back in September 2013.
Elsewhere for Conte, young defender Todd Kane also took to social media on Sunday to reveal that he may now finally be reaching the latter stages of his own injury recovery. The 23-year-old academy graduate was expected to miss around six months after tearing his ACL on loan at NEC Nijmegen in April.
"So good to be working with the ball again," he said on his personal Instagram account. "Seeing some light at the end of the tunnel now. #grafting #cfc."