Since Chelsea paid Atletico Madrid a world-record £72million for Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in 2018 , clipsing the £66.6 million fee Liverpool paid Roma to sign Alisson Becker the same summer, the Spaniard has endured a mixed 18 months at Stamford Bridge.
In his first season, Kepa kept an impressive 14 clean sheets in 36 Premier League appearances, making more than 80 saves including his excellent fingertip save against Watford’s Troy Deeney and superb instinctive reaction against Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrović which were truly world class, while showing impressive ball playing skills as he showed a real authority and presence in his first season under then boss Maurizio Sarri.
However, the 25 year old has been unable to maintain that form this season and after a series of errors this campaign, Frank Lampard decided to drop Kepa from his starting line up for the Blues’ 2-2 draw with Leicester on February 1 after a string of underwhelming performances from the former Atletico shot-stopper, with Argentinian Willy Caballero coming in as a replacement for the Spaniard.
“It’s a decision that I make, and I think with goalkeepers it’s a decision you don’t take lightly because of what it means. They are very close and they work hard together each day but it’s one that I felt to make for this game. I trust in Willy, he trains brilliantly, he’s a great professional. I trust them both but it’s the decision for today.”
Frank Lampard speaking to Sky Sports before Chelsea’s draw at Leicester
Speaking in Sky Sports’ latest edition of Sunday Supplement, Daily Mail football correspondent Craig Hope voiced his opinion Lampard’s decision to drop Kepa, saying that believes the manager hoped to send him a message to improve or else he might continue at Chelsea.
“I wasn’t surprised [he was dropped],” Hope said. “I saw Kepa up at Newcastle a couple of weeks ago when Newcastle somehow stole a 94th-minute winner. The only thing he had to do all afternoon was save what was a fairly routine header and it flew past him.
However Henry Winter, chief football at The Times, feels more sympathetic towards Kepa, believing the constant rotation in Chelsea’s defence will only hinder the Spaniard’s performances. He further feels Lampard is being rather ruthless with him and feels his decision to omit Kepa from his starting XI may encourage the former Atletico keeper to focus on improving his game.
“You’ve got to have some sympathy for Kepa in terms of the rotation and the changes of the centre-halves in front of him,” Winter Said.
“It must be much better for a goalkeeper if you have built up that triangle with the two centre-halves or three centre-halves.
“I’ve got some sympathy there but what this also shows is the decisiveness of Lampard. We’ve all talked to him, he’s got this image as a nice, intelligent, personable individual but what this shows is Lampard has got this ruthless side.
“Dropping Kepa was a big call and probably the right one if it focuses Kepa a little bit.”
Finally, The Telegraph’s Mike McGrith thinks Kepa lacks presence in his penalty area but has backed him to return to Chelsea’s starting line-up stronger.
“Kepa was just slow on to the Newcastle goal and the Hector Bellerin one against Arsenal. I didn’t think it was terminal. I didn’t think that he was a bad goalkeeper,” McGrath said.
“I thought it was to do with sharpness, which can be improved upon.”
There are rumours that Lampard may be keen to offload the shot stopper in the summer transfer window, with The Blues being linked with a host of alternatives over the including Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak, Ajax’s Andre Onana, Barcelona’s Marc Andre Ter Stegen and have even been linked with a shock move with compatriot David De Gea from Manchester United. Some are realistic alternatives, some may be unattainable, and some are not of the quality Chelsea should be aspiring to acquire.
Kepa is under contract for another five seasons at Stamford Bridge and if he is able to rediscover his form from last season, then there is no need for Frank Lampard to seek a replacement for the Spainard. While signing capable competition definitely makes sense, investing a ludicrous amount of money on a keeper arguably is not essential for Lampard and Roman Abramovich.
It will definitely be fascinating to see whether Kepa is capable of reclaiming his position as No.1 under Lampard, especially considering Chelsea’s have key upcoming games in the battle to finish in the top four in the league against Manchester United and Tottenham, an FA Cup first leg against Bayern Munich on 25th February at Stamford Bridge alongside a home tie against Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup on March 3rd.