Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Breaking Down Why Lampard’s Chelsea Side Must Trust In Kepa Arrizabalaga’s Goalkeeping Next Season

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Nikhil Vinodh
Nikhil has been an avid Chelsea fan for as long as the concept of time has existed and rumours say that he even bleeds blue.Having lived in the UK for 3 years, Nikhil is said to have an excellent understanding of the atmosphere surrounding the English game. His role model is the greatest manager of all time - Jose Mourinho.

There’s an old idiom which states that you don’t know the true value of something until it’s gone, and Premier League giants Chelsea were forced to learn that the hard way a couple of seasons ago. The Blues’ former goalkeeper was Belgian international Thibaut Courtois, and while his overall quality was apparent to see and widely accepted around Stamford Bridge, there was still a general dissatisfaction over his exploits from the fan base.

The fact that Petr Cech, arguably the greatest goalkeeper of the Premier League era, was his predecessor, certainly didn’t help the Belgian’s cause. But even with that taken into consideration, Courtois was never given the love or respect he deserved at Stamford Bridge. The player seemed to pick up on that too, and when the opportunity came to join a European heavyweight in Real Madrid, he didn’t even need to think twice. While it must be conceded that his exit from London wasn’t the most graceful, the worrying part for the Blues was that the Belgian made it look like his decision to go for the move was instant.

Lampard Must Trust In Kepa Arrizabalaga - Kepa shouts out instructions
Chelsea’s Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga shouts at teammates during the English FA Cup fifth round football match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in London on March 3, 2020. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

Breaking Down Why Lampard Must Trust In Kepa Arrizabalaga:

Enter Kepa Arrizabalaga

The Spanish shot-stopper was acquired from La Liga outfit Athletic Bilbao on the deadline day prior to the commencement of the 2018/19 league campaign. Courtois’ departure from the club wasn’t received well at all by the Chelsea fans, owing largely to how the Belgian forced his exit. Kepa arrived with a mammoth reputation that he had already built up in Spain, and his humongous price tag certainly didn’t help his cause.

Having been signed on deadline day, there was a lot of talk of it being a transfer of desperation form the Chelsea fans, even though the Spaniard hadn’t even pulled on the blue kit yet. The first few weeks had been like a test, and it’s safe to say that Kepa had passed satisfactorily. Although he wasn’t nearly as secure as Courtois was in his final year at the Bridge, the former La Liga ace showed himself in decent light and didn’t allow all the rambling to get to him.

The question marks over his quality first began when Maurizio Sarri tried to substitute him just ahead of their Carabao Cup final penalty shootout against Manchester City, and the Spaniard seemed to simply refuse to come off. Willy Caballero, known around the Premier League as a penalty-stopping expert, was all kitted up on the sidelines, but Kepa simply continued to say no. This resulted in the manager dropping him for a couple of fixtures, only to then reinstate him later on.

Lampard Must Trust In Kepa Arrizabalaga - Kepa talks to a downed teammate
LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 26: Kepa Arrizabalaga of Chelsea checks on Callum Hudson-Odoi of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Southampton FC at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Kepa Arrizabalaga’s Season

This event left a lasting impression in the eyes of the Chelsea fans, and after that night, the number of questions about his overall quality seemed to grow exponentially. Frank Lampard came into the side this season and initially placed his trust in Kepa, only for the Spaniard to make a plethora of individual errors which led to him being dropped. Although these errors weren’t overly costly, the presence of an unsure goalkeeper can have massive impacts on the morale of the team, and Lampard was quick to recognise that.

Willy Caballero was promoted as the first-choice by Lampard around the midway point in the campaign, and frustratingly enough for Kepa, the Argentine didn’t do a half bad job. Despite this, the Spaniard was once again reinstated for the Blues’ cup tie against Liverpool – a game in which he proved the haters wrong by making a quite sensational triple save that essentially kept Chelsea in the tie. The former La Liga man then started in the league fixture against Everton, where he kept a clean sheet as well. It was after that fixture that the COVID-19 pandemic brought football to a halt.

The Search?

Once the season was halted, the transfer links began to pile in for Chelsea, with the likes of Andre Onana (Evening Standard), Neto (Daily Express), Gianluigi Donnarumma (TuttoSport) and more, all being touted to join Stamford Bridge in the summer. There is an obvious uncertainty surrounding Kepa’s position at the club, but whether or not Chelsea will choose to act on it this summer remains to be seen.

Lampard Must Trust In Kepa Arrizabalaga - Kepa walks into training
Chelsea’s Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga comes out for a training session at Chelsea’s Cobham training facility in Stoke D’Abernon, southwest of London on February 24, 2020, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg football match against Bayern Munich. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

What Has Kepa Brought To Chelsea?

The Spaniard’s 25 Premier League games this season resulted in a total of 32 goals being conceded (Transfermarkt). To put that into perspective, Jose Mourinho’s 2004/05 Chelsea side conceded a total of just 15 goals all through the campaign (Squawka). Also, Kepa only managed six clean sheets this season, while the aforementioned Chelsea squad’s clean sheet numbers read 25. With that said though, it’s worth considering that the massive price tag could’ve done quite a bit in terms of weighing the Spaniard down.

The expectations from the fans were apparent to see, and the fact that he had to fill the shoes of Thibaut Courtois – now considered among the best goalkeepers in the world, didn’t help his cause either. But the fact remains that at 25-year-old, Kepa still has enough time left to change his Stamford Bridge reputation. While that would, of course, require him to add more consistency to his play, there’s no denying that Kepa is capable of reaching that level.

Lampard Must Trust In Kepa Arrizabalaga: The Verdict

Chelsea have multiple areas on the pitch that need to be addressed, and it could be argued that the striker and winger requirements are more pivotal to their play than the addition of a new shot-stopper. Kepa, in the two fixtures prior to the stoppage of play, proved that he’s got what it takes to perform at the biggest level. Being dropped from the side came as a wake up call to the Spaniard that the new manager wasn’t afraid to make drastic decisions for the sake of the team. Kepa could come into next season as a changed player, and unless the former La Liga man slips back into his old ways, Lampard needn’t even consider spending valuable resources on another goalkeeper.

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