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The curious of Kepa Arrizabalaga. Chelsea's £71m round peg in rectangular goal. Sarri's white elephant facing a career defining moment. A thread.
Kepa enjoyed a fairly competent bedding-in season at Chelsea, thriving in Sarri's passing set-up. In the league alone Kepa conceded 39 goals and kept 14 clean sheets, helping Chelsea to finish the campaign with the third-best defence in the division.
I've always had this feeling the fanbase developed a soft spot for Kepa in an instant, as bitterness and anger aimed at Courtois turned into unconditional love for a young bloke with a heavy burden on his shoulders.
Kepa's introduction brought out his strongest features, mostly outstanding passing skills. Anyway, his glaring weaknesses, although outweighed by his numerous skills, were still showing.
Kepa's reflexes are unquestionable. However, all this stretching and diving often come to naught with his weak wrists and arms slightly shorter than your ordinary 6.4 ft tall goalie.
I am not going to delve into details and analyse the goals he conceded, everyone knows the pattern: ball ending up in the net off his hands or him hopping up in the air to no avail like an outstreched dwarf (Sturridge, Salah).
Now it's time for a deliberate self-contradicting point. Getting on his case because of his 'tiny hands and short arms' makes very little sense. This was obvious on the day the deal was clinched. His qualities were linked with a new philosophy Chelsea flip-flopped on.
The problem I have with Kepa is that he's very one-dimensional in his play. Sarri's set-up and any tactical outfits in this mould suit his qualities, whereas in my humble opinion he's the best 'sweeper-keeper' in the league.
Ditching the aforementioned approach means we get back to the nitty-gritty of goalkeeping and unfortunately he doesn't excel at the absolute rudiments. Here's your dose of statistics casting a poor reflection on him:
22 shots on target, 12 goals conceded (Champions League and Premier League combined). Just 12 successful saves made, which means that roughly one in two attempts on target leads to Chelsea's opposition to scoring.
The ironic thing is that he's not explicitly at fault for the goals. It's usually the same picture: a seemingly good finish and this weird feeling he could have done better. Doesn't drop clangers, doesn't go the extra mile either.
Kepa's arrival is the side effect of Chelsea's failed Sarri experiment (doesn't matter if you liked this philosophy or not, aborted means failure). He's an absolute unit in any set-up with intricate passing patterns. Again, it's the basic that holds him back.
Another aspect of the story: over the years Chelsea's number one was a lanky old-fashioned goalie with dodgy feet but a great understanding of 'being a commander of his own penalty area'.
Both Courtois (2014-2018) and Cech (2004-2014) had a thing for claiming crosses, cutting them out and nipping a dangerous situation in the bud. Kepa's simply not wired this way (so far just two crosses caught this season).
Lampard's system is less dependent on his goalie's passing ability, which unfortunately for Kepa brings out his vices and makes advantages less noticeable and less important on that score.
Alright, cutting to the chase now, I believe this is the right moment to assess him more critically, giving him some stick (doesn't translate to slurs and morbid abuse). He needs to step up as after all he ain't no a kid no more.
At the age of 25 Kepa's standing at the foot of a giant mountain. He either climbs it and becomes one heck of a player for Chelsea or gets stuck at this level - a fairly decent goalie, nothing less, but certainly nothing more.
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