Despite being previously said to no longer be in Frank Lampard’s plans, the Daily Mail has been reporting that Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga is ready to stay and fight for a starting spot next season. The former Bilbao man signed a seven-year contract back in the summer of 2018 after making a world record €80 million move to help herald in a new style of football.
Apparently, Chelsea are nevertheless still keen to sign another keeper, who would provide the necessary competition a 38-year-old Willy Caballero isn’t really able to anymore. (Ed.note: plus, Caballero may be retiring anyway.)
In his first season, Kepa kept 14 clean sheets in 36 Premier League appearances, making more than 80 saves — some, like the fingertip save against Watford’s Troy Deeney or the instinctive reaction against Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrović were truly world class — and showing off some impressive ball playing skills. He was also key in Chelsea reaching the finals of both the League Cup and the Europa League, making crucial saves in penalty shootouts along the way.
But times have changed for the 25-year-old and he’s been unable to reproduce that form this season. He’s been one of the 2-3 worst in the Premier League in terms of save percentage and expected goals conceded practically all season. With confidence at an all-time low and public pressure at an all-time high, Lampard pulled Kepa for all of February. Palpable discord between the two was reported.
Kepa Arrazibalaga: Of all goalkeepers for teams currently in the top half of the Premier League Kepa has the worst save success rate (64%). pic.twitter.com/NP4Cio0EQ0— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 27, 2019
Luckily, this move payed off. Kepa’s first two games back between the sticks saw him return to his form of old, an improvement Lampard went on to laud as “exactly what I wanted from him”. An important triple save against Liverpool in the FA Cup and a commanding performance against Everton in the league saw Kepa keep two clean sheets in a row, a seldom seen sight for Chelsea since 2017.
Lampard previously warned Kepa that he’d have to put in some serious work on the training ground to warrant him starting for Chelsea again. After six games on the bench, Kepa was just starting to do so before the untimely stoppage of all football due to coronavirus pandemic.
Most saves made by Kepa in a UCL game this season: 4— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 3, 2020
Most saves made by Kepa in a Premier League game this season: 4
Saves made by Kepa vs. Liverpool in the #FACup: 5
Back in form. pic.twitter.com/3HIvF6MerY
Regardless, Chelsea have been linked with a host of alternatives over the past weeks. From Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak to Ajax’s André Onana, Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen, or even Udinese’s Juan Musso, there multiple names being thrown around. Some are realistic alternatives, some are mere pipe dreams, and some are not of the quality Chelsea should be aspiring to acquire.
It’s too early to tell whether or not the time-out really did work wonders and bring back the old Kepa for good (ed.note: or better yet, a new and even more improved Kepa!), but it’s worth noting that some of his good form and contributions from last season is often forgotten. Yes, he had that League Cup final incident with Sarri; but, games like the second leg against Eintracht Frankfurt and his penalty shootout heroics in it underline his potential and prowess.
While the idea of having specifically Oblak between the sticks at Stamford Bridge is cetainly drool-worthy, you’d expect his eye-watering buyout clause of €120 million to deter most bidders. Also, there are arguably far greater areas in need of reinforcements than the goalkeeping position right now, especially with Kepa’s promising signs since his return to the lineup.
We have Kepa under contract for another five seasons and if we are able to count on the Kepa from last season, then there is no need to throw that away. While signing capable competition definitely makes sense, investing a ludicrous amount of our supposed war chest on a position that isn’t the greatest need sounds like a bad plan — not to mention the non-starter of an idea of juggling two in-form goalkeepers in squad rotation.
We will have to wait and see how this pans out. Regardless of what happens with football itself, Kepa’s future will be a big developing story in the summer.