Opinion: Graham Potter will be thankful Chelsea kept Kepa this summer
Kepa Arrizabalaga may finally have found his feet at Chelsea , over four years since he arrived at the club. The Spaniard’s seven saves, including five from inside the penalty area, proved vital in Chelsea’s 2-0 over Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon.
A stunning save down low to prevent Jacob Ramsey in the first-half was eye-catching, before he pulled off a similarly remarkable save to tip Danny Ings’ point-blank range header over the bar. In perhaps the worst display of Graham Potter’s short spell in charge at Chelsea, it was Kepa who ensured the Blues didn’t suffer a first league defeat since August against an Aston Villa side who were electric against the 2021 Champions League winners.
Kepa joined Chelsea in 2018 with the weight of becoming the most expensive goalkeeper in history. But, just two seasons later, the Blues signed Edouard Mendy from Stade Rennais in an attempt to combat the issues faced with Kepa in between the sticks during the 2019/20 campaign.
The Spaniard was deemed at fault for a large proportion of the goals Chelsea conceded in Frank Lampard’s first year in charge, which led to him being demoted to a role of back-up after Mendy’s arrival.
In fact, Willy Caballero even featured a fair amount instead of Kepa before the addition of Mendy in the summer of 2020. The Spaniard even had the worst save percentage of any number one goalkeeper in the 2020/21 Premier League season (56.5%).
With Athletic Club only able to use players from the Basque region, Kepa’s price tag was to be expected, but his form at Chelsea mirrored that of a player devoid of any hint of confidence.
Mendy hit the ground running at Stamford Bridge, helping the side lift the Champions League in his first season at the club after a string of impressive performances in the competition.
After sitting on the bench for almost the entirety of Thomas Tuchel’s spell in charge at Chelsea, Kepa was heavily linked with a transfer away during the 2022 summer transfer window.
Serie A giants Napoli, who have started the 2022/23 season in enviable fashion, were reportedly interested in signing Kepa to fill the void left by the departed David Ospina, who left to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr FC.
Alex Meret only featured seven times during the 2021/22 Serie A campaign, but Napoli opted against signing Kepa in favour of promoting the Italian to the number one role at the Diego Armando Stadium, with wages deemed to be an issue with adding the former Athletic Club shot-stopper.
That decision has proven to be a blessing for Kepa, Graham Potter and Chelsea.
Thomas Tuchel’s sacking and Potter’s appointment came at the perfect time for Kepa as the aforementioned Mendy was side-lined with thigh injury suffered while on Senegal duty.
As a result, Kepa was the natural selection to start Potter’s opening few games in charge while Mendy recovered from injury.
With Mendy back and fully fit, it was expected that he would come straight back into the team, but Kepa’s performances left nothing to be desired and Potter has kept faith with the Spaniard, with his ability to play out from the back no doubt a key factor behind the former Brighton manager’s decision.
That faith was rewarded in Chelsea’s win over Aston Villa, with Kepa’s display ensuring the Blues sealed their fourth clean sheet in a row, a feat that didn’t happen in the entirety of the 2021/22 campaign.
It now appears to be Kepa’s shirt to lose, with Potter clearly an admirer of the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, and if he continues to perform like he did against Aston Villa, then there’s no reason why he won’t remain Chelsea’s number one for the remainder of the season.
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