As we approach the end of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s fourth season at Stamford Bridge, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper’s Chelsea prospects are looking about as dim as they had ever looked. He’s not played since losing the penalty shootout in the Carabao Cup final, and while he’s performed heroics in similar situations several times earlier in the season, his chances of actually unseating Édouard Mendy remain quite low — despite a few errors creeping into Mendy’s game recently.
In fact, as Thomas Tuchel revealed in his pre-match press conference yesterday, he’s not looking to rotate his goalkeepers at all the rest of the season. We have eight league games and one FA Cup final to play, and they are Mendy’s games to start barring injury or (more) extreme mistakes.
“It’s always a thin line in these decisions, and there is never a 100% reason to go against Kepa because he deserves it, and we trust him. But this is such an obvious decision when you go for somebody [in goal] that you can’t play the other person because there is no other position than goalkeeper. I think it will influence, of course, his feeling about it and how he sees it.
“Edou is the number one and deserves to be the number one. I think it’s also important that a goalkeeper at this moment of the season feels this moment like it. I experienced different at other clubs, and it was never really good if you have these open situations – a mistake maybe then leads to a new open race. It’s too sensitive this position for it.”
After Mendy’s mistake against Real Madrid, which gifted their third goal in the first leg to Karim Benzema, Tuchel expected the world’s best goalkeeper to digest and “live with” that error and come back stronger from it. Two clean sheets in the three games since then are certainly a good start in that regard.
But meanwhile, we can’t expect Kepa to be happy with this lot in life for too much longer, and Tuchel anticipates that certain big decisions will have to be made in the summer,
“He is our player, and he is a fantastic guy to deal with this kind of situation, which is not easy for him. I felt his disappointment around the Club World [and] also for the Carabao Cup final because he brought us there and had the feeling he deserved — and he was right — to play in the final. Still, we made the decision for Edou.”
[We] need to be honest first of all [with Kepa], and he has to stay fully involved like he is; yesterday in training, he was simply fantastic. Then he has to be open with us. For me, nothing needs to change as I like him a lot, and we need strong goalkeepers because it’s a crucial position. But we need to reflect on it in the summer.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
Kepa will have three more years left still on massive contract, and as before, offloading him will not be easy. Whoever’s in charge by then will need to get creative to find a solution that benefits all involved.