Thomas Tuchel is known for surprising lineups and tactical decisions, and he certainly caused a ton of double-takes (and even more concerns) last night when he picked Kepa Arrizabalaga to start in goal instead of Édouard Mendy.
Mendy had been the undisputed No.1 since his arrival in the final week of the extended summer transfer window. Prior to last night, he missed just one Premier League match in 20, owing to an injury picked up during international duty. He had started the last 18 league games in a row, keeping clean sheets in half of them.
Meanwhile, Kepa had taken over the dutiful role of backup, featuring in all of our FA Cup games as well as the dead rubber match in the Champions League group stages against Krasnodar. And in his one and only appearance of import since Mendy’s signing, Kepa gave up three goals to Southampton — not all of them his fault, but we’ve been down this road many times in the last couple years.
Tuchel explained his decision prior to kick-off by claiming that Mendy needed a break (mentally, rather than physically) — he certainly hasn’t been busy since Tuchel’s taken over, facing very few shots and conceding just one goal, that from his own teammate, even — and that Kepa earned his chance with a solid performance midweek in the Cup.
That led to some speculation that the this latest world order may be here to stay, but after the game, Tuchel confirmed that the status quo has not changed.
“Edou is the number one, this is clear. It was clear before the game and it stays like this.
“I am happy Kepa continued with a second clean sheet. It was the moment to let him feel the rhythm and build up his confidence.
“It was clear before that we hoped for the best performance, but Edou will be in goal from now on as he recovered physically and mentally and right now, he is the number one.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Sky via Goal
The risky decision appears to have paid off then, both on the pitch and in the dressing room. Kepa got a match and built back some of his confidence by feeling the trust. That doesn’t mean we won’t be expecting the worst next time he plays, but some trust takes longer to rebuild than others.
Meanwhile, Mendy got a mental break and can now be ready to fully focus on keeping up his solid performances as we enter a tougher stretch in both the Premier League and the Champions League.
And most importantly, Chelsea won and now have a fourth place position to defend (or even improve upon) for the rest of the season. Win-win-win.