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The world’s most expensive goalkeeper is now different

14 Jan 2022 | 10:37 | Football

If he continues to play excellently in the Chelsea shirt, Kepa Arrizabalaga can completely occupy the main spot of Edouard Mendy.

Chelsea overcame Tottenham Hotspur in this season’s League Cup semi-finals with a score of 3-0. “The Blues” will be difficult to convince an opponent in the same city if Kepa does not play well. Performance against Tottenham showed that the £71.6m goalkeeper was confident again.

Kepa Arrizabalaga has been a solid support for Chelsea in two matches against Tottenham in the League Cup this season. Photo: Reuters.

Kepa Arrizabalaga has been a solid support for Chelsea in two matches against Tottenham in the League Cup this season. Photo: Reuters.

Intelligent processing phase

Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell exclaimed in surprise after witnessing Kepa leaving an empty goal and going up to trap Harry Kane for offside. In the second leg of the League Cup semi-final at dawn on January 13 (Hanoi time), the clever handling of the Chelsea goalkeeper made Kane’s goal disallowed for offside.

Many inertial goalkeepers would rush to defend the goal in that situation, but not Kepa. The fact that the former Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper rose to catch the Tottenham striker offside showed the thinking of the game and most importantly, the confidence of the Spanish goalkeeper.

“Once again, Kepa played brilliantly,” Chilwell wrote on his personal page. In the last two matches for Chelsea since Mendy returned to serve the national team, Kepa kept a clean sheet. Before that, in another match against Tottenham in the Premier League, the 27-year-old goalkeeper also kept a clean sheet to help the home team win the match.

The last match against Tottenham was also the 44th time that Kepa kept a clean sheet after 117 appearances for Chelsea. His clean sheet percentage in the London shirt is at 38.5%, a not-so-bad achievement.

Kepa's smart goal kick in the match against Tottenham.

Kepa’s smart goal kick in the match against Tottenham.

Chelsea have a reason to spend large sums of money to recruit Kepa from Athletic Bilbao in the 2018 summer transfer window. Marcus Bettinelli, the goalkeeper who has just signed for Chelsea in the summer of 2021, rates Kepa as one of the keepers that can keep the score. The best personal technique he’s ever known.

“Kepa has all the qualities of a genius goalkeeper, from reflexes, catching the ball to the ability to handle with his feet,” said the 29-year-old keeper. “Kepa is of course capable of taking Mendy’s place”.

It should be remembered that since arriving at Stamford Bridge, Kepa has made many saves for Chelsea thanks to ecstatic handling situations. It was also when facing Tottenham in the 2018/19 League Cup semi-finals that Kepa successfully pushed Lucas Moura’s penalty kick, helping Chelsea to the final.

Three months later, Arrizabalaga continued to shine in the Europa League semi-finals to help Chelsea overcome Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties. In the European Super Cup earlier this season, Kepa also successfully pushed two penalties from Villarreal, helping Chelsea win the title.

The performance against Tottenham in the last League Cup added another strong point of Kepa, which is a smart playing mindset. If he improves his mentality and concentration, Kepa has a bright future when his goalkeeper skill set is quite perfect.

Chance

The Spanish goalkeeper once left a bad impression when he reacted to coach Maurizio Sarri in the League Cup final season 2018/19. Besides, he also made many unforgivable mistakes in the Chelsea wooden frame during that period.

At 27, however, Kepa has plenty of time to learn from past mistakes. The goalkeeper himself, born in 1994, admits that he has learned a lot from his experience after the unwarranted scandal with coach Sarri 3 years ago.

“I have learned many lessons from the controversy in 2019,” said the Basque goalkeeper. “Things haven’t been easy, but obviously that incident helped me realize a lot of things to look forward to.”

Bettinelli affirmed: “Although he has just arrived at Chelsea, I can confirm that Kepa is very professional. On the training ground or when playing, he always shows his ability.”

Coach Thomas Tuchel also agreed with Bettinelli about the Spaniard: “I have not seen Kepa jealous or unhappy because he has to sit on the bench.” The German strategist confirmed he has great faith in Kepa in the coming period, after Chelsea did not have Mendy’s service because of CAN 2021.

Coach Tuchel congratulated Kepa after a good performance against Tottenham in the second leg of the semi-finals of the 2021/22 League Cup. Photo: Reuters.

Coach Tuchel congratulated Kepa after a good performance against Tottenham in the second leg of the semi-finals of the 2021/22 League Cup. Photo: Reuters.

Chelsea’s upcoming matches could be pivotal for Kepa’s future. If the Senegal team goes deep in CAN 2021, Mendy is likely to return to Chelsea in early February.

Kepa has a great opportunity to start for Chelsea in the matches against Man City (January 15), Brighton (January 19) and Tottenham (January 23). Those are important matches for Chelsea in the race for the Premier League title this season. If caught well, Kepa can completely take Mendy’s No. 1 position.

Since Coach Tuchel led Chelsea, the German strategist has given Kepa many opportunities. He also did not hesitate to publicize his opinion of choosing goalkeepers based on performance. Coach Tuchel certainly cannot forget Mendy’s mistakes last December.

When Chelsea lost to West Ham or Everton, Senegal’s goalkeepers were all criminals. Recently, Mendy is no longer as sure as last season. He failed many times to pass and put “The Blues” defense in danger.

Mendy’s decline and having to serve the National Team is an opportunity for Kepa, who has improved a lot since his first arrival at Chelsea for a record transfer fee in history.

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