For the first 45 minutes in the home opener against Liverpool, Chelsea looked surprisingly solid, with reassuring moments in defense and promising moments conjured from counter attacks. We were holding our own against the defending Premier League champions, just as we had in most of the four matchups last season.
It would not have been out of the realm of possibility for Chelsea to stifle Liverpool for the second half as well, earning a draw. An optimist could even have hoped for a smash-and-grab finish, with Timo Werner the likely hero, as he had looked threatening throughout the match with his speed and clever runs.
However, dreams will be dreams, and we must thrust ourselves back to the reality of the 2-0 defeat. Andreas Christensen’s rugby tackle on Sadio Mane was adjudged initially as a yellow, only to be upgraded to red after VAR intervention. Lampard, surprisingly, felt that the decision of the red card could have gone either way.
“It’s not a definite one — they can get given or not. Once the yellow is the first decision, you feel it needs to be absolutely critical that it’s a red to make that difference and I’m not sure it was. I’m not going to sit here and complain too much but it was one I felt could be given or not.”
“My team talk at half-time was to be more confident on the ball because we had little moments where we received it in midfield and got our full-backs in the game. That’s how we needed to carry on going forward but then the red card changes the whole team talk.”
(Ed.note: unfortunately, there really wasn’t much doubt about Christensen’s lapse of concentration and terrible decision to use his arms to bring down Mane from behind. Perhaps if he keeps his arms down, he can sell it as making a play for the ball, but it was quite clear what he was doing — and Kepa doesn’t count as a covering defender in the last man foul and denial of a goalscoring opportunity.)
Christensen’s foul and dismissal put Chelsea at a severe disadvantage but it was just the first of a series of mistakes that led to our eventual downfall.
Unsurprisingly, the sour cherry on top of the rotten mistakes pile was Kepa’s assist for Liverpool’s and Sadio Mane’s second goal of the night. It was a clear and egregious howler from the already under-fire Chelsea goalkeeper, and while Lampard defended his goalkeeper last week, despite him allowing Leandro Trossard’s long range shot to creep in under his arm, there was no way to spin this one positively.
“My job is to try and give him confidence because a goalkeeper absolutely relies on confidence. It’s a clear mistake that’s cost us and Kepa has accepted that as he should do — he holds his hands up.
“We have to be a group and accept that with joint responsibility because these things do happen but it’s obviously a clear mistake. He has to keep working and have support around him.”
If anyone expected Lampard to throw Kepa under the bus, they haven’t been following Lampard’s press conferences closely enough. He has been consistently measured and calculated with his words, and telling Kepa to keep working after taking responsibility for the error is the closest the head coach’s going to come to putting anyone on blast in public.
Others have less shame in their game, such as everyone’s favorite master of
whispers rumors, who had the gall to tweet this moments after Mane scored his freebie from Kepa.
All that said, what is actually next for Kepa?
With Mendy coming in and Caballero set to take Wednesday’s League Cup match against Barnsley, just as he was always going to do, Kepa may not get too many more chances in the foreseeable future, if any. Even if Mendy does not arrive in time, or for some reason has to quarantine, Caballero’s likely to get the nod ahead of Kepa next weekend, when we travel to newly promoted West Bromwich Albion.
“I can say now that Willy Caballero will play and that was always my feeling to play him in the game on Wednesday [against Barnsley in the Carabao Cup] regardless of today so I don’t want people to make judgements on that.”
-Frank Lampard, source: Chelsea FC
Given Chelsea’s ambitions starting this season, not to mention the large squad full of players who want to play, there isn’t much room for sentiment and no room for mistakes. Losing to Liverpool is not the end of the world, especially this early in the season, but losing in this manner has to have some consequences.