So with the newspapers full of Chelsea bids for Edourdo Mendy, I thought I’d have a look at both of them and how they compare to some of the best and other possible replacements or competition for Kepa’s number one jersey at Chelsea Football Club.
Kepa Arrizabalaga joined Chelsea from Athletic Bilbao, where he had an excellent reputation, for £71.6 or £72.6 million pounds depending on what stats website or media outlet you are looking at. A lot of money by anyone’s standards.
Chelsea had seemingly been in the market for Brazilian sensation, Alisson, who eventually joined Liverpool for £65 million pounds, so of course, the comparisons with Kepa were never going to be far away.
Kepa was given a 7 year contract on an alleged £100k a week and we all sat back and expected to see something special. I thought it would take time for him to bed into a new league and a new country, especially as he was only 23 years old at the time, but I was expecting all the basics to be there and to see someone, with at least the potential to be compared to Petr Cech or even snakey Courtois, in terms of ability and performance.
In his first season he conceded 39 goals in 36 Premier League games and kept 14 clean sheets. That didn’t set the world alight but it was reasonable when factoring in the new environment he found himself in.
My biggest concern at the time, I’ll be honest, as someone who was too short to make a professional goalkeeper at 5’9”, although playing for the County in goal and having short stays at Stoke City and Northampton Town, in their youth set ups, before being told definitively, “You’re too short, go and join the circus or something”, was that I would have been more likely to come for balls on the edge of the six yard box that were in the air, than 6’1” Kepa appeared to be.
My worries were compounded when I sat right behind his goal on a couple of occasions at the Bridge (when I used a friend’s season ticket whilst he was on holiday) and I found Kepa to be so quiet in comparison to the greats I’d seen and heard at the Bridge over the years. Cech was practically a second set of eyes for Terry and company, and I’m sure he contributed to making a great defence even better.
Shouting because you’ve just conceded a goal doesn’t really count. Kepa was exceptional in this department.
I remember standing in the Shed when Chelsea played Nottingham Forest in the 1977-78 season and despite the noise of the crowd, which was excellent in those days, you could hear Peter Shilton barking his orders at defenders and talking them through the game when they were facing him and had attackers bombing towards them. As a young keeper for my school and County, at the time, I learned so much from listening to him that afternoon. I think one of the keeper’s biggest jobs in communicating and being that second set of eyes.
Then came the farcical happenings of the League Cup Final, when despite the official version of events, which would indicate both Sarri and Kepa had a mix up that would require them both to have the IQ of an amoeba, we could all see that Kepa refused to leave the field of play when requested by his manager. I’m probably being unfair, but if he was slightly injured, as it appeared, his ego, cost us the chance of having penalty specialist and ex-Manchester City player Willy Caballero, face his ex-team mates, who he’d watched practice penalties, day in and day out. In my mind, this could well have cost us a League Cup trophy. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but you can’t help the way your brain works, can you?
So I’ll nail my colours to the mast and say, I wasn’t a fan of Kepa after that, but I’d never abuse anyone in a Chelsea shirt and always support, no matter what and I hoped he’d prove to be everything I thought he wasn’t, in 2019/20.
In that season however, Kepa conceded 47 goals in 33 Premier League games, with a low save percentage of just 55.4%, which left him 127th out of 132 goalkeepers in Europe’s top seven leagues.
As he stacked up the records, it meant that in two seasons he’d conceded 8% of the Premier League goals that Chelsea have conceded in the 28 years the Premier League had been running. That’s some achievement by anyone’s standards.
More alarmingly, he hadn’t moved an inch for 14 of those 47 goals. Even the worst park goalkeeper will tell you about the time, he thought the ball was in and just threw himself at it, with an amazing result. A professional keeper not moving for 1 in 3 (almost) goals against, seems to me, bizarre?
In Kepa’s defence, he had a pretty volatile unsettled defence in front of him and individual mistakes were rife during the season, but I’m concentrating on his performances for this piece. The shocking defending, the ball watching, the lapses in concentration by any permutation of our central defenders and left backs, is the subject for another day.
Using data from reputable stats website fbref.com, Kepa’s save percentage has been compared to the 729 goalkeepers who have played 10 or more matches in England’s top-flight. His position based on his stats: 730 out of 730.
I won’t even compare those stats for either season with Alisson at Liverpool, because I think that would be unfair, considering the teams they respectively had in front of them, but on an individual performance basis. Taking into account those things that, as an individual, you do have control over, Kepa was definitely found wanting in all areas. However, for me, his lack of communication and domination of his six yard box are even more disturbing than his shocking save percentage.
I feel he needs a challenge at least. For me, preferably at another club, but if finances dictate that he has to stay, as some Petr Cech quotes recently would indicate, then he needs real competition at Chelsea. I hope that drives him to ram my words straight back down my throat and rediscover his basic techniques and the game that made him a Spanish International.
So let’s look at a couple of possible alternatives.
Looks more and more likely to be a Chelsea player in the not too distant future with reports saying he’s agreed personal terms.
At 6’6, five inches taller than Arrizabalaga, Mendy is an imposing presence. He comes for the ball in the air a lot more reassuringly than Kepa and tries to dominate his six yard box, punching when he can’t catch.
He also seems to communicate with his defenders and this helped contribute to an impressive total of just 0.8 goals conceded per game last season which was the second-lowest in the division.
In the 2019/20 season, Mendy conceded 27 goals in 33 games in all competitions.
Mendy’s post-shot xG of +1.7 is far superior to Kepa’s total of -9.6 which was actually the worst in the Premier League by some distance. Post-shot xG is based on how likely a goalkeeper is to save the shots that they are facing, meaning the Senegalese international slightly overperformed in 2019/20 and massively outperformed the current Chelsea keeper. It has to be said that in my opinion, Mendy was behind one of the best defences in France and the French League isn’t on a par overall with the Premier League which is a lot more physical, particularly from dead ball situations. That said, in any league, a six foot six keeper coming for a ball commands respect.
Additionally, Mendy’s 78.4% save percentage, which was the third-best in Ligue 1, compared to Kepa’s meagre 54.5% which again left him bottom of the English top-flight.
I’ve watched hours of Mendy, because of his association with Chelsea and if he has a weakness, it’s that sometimes, he’s too quick off his line. Giving away cheap penalties on occasions and also free kicks just outside the box, which have on occasions led to goals.
All round though, whilst not a world beater in my humble opinion, he is a definite step up from our current incarnation of Kepa and if he could be bought for around £20 million pounds, he would at least be a decent stop gap and who knows, maybe he would even bring out the best of Kepa. A version that we haven’t seen at The Bridge, apart from on the odd occasion in that first season.
So who would be ideal long term replacements?
The 27 year old, 6’2” Atletico Madrid keeper is probably the best keeper in the world at the moment, but after the brilliant transfer window we’ve had, paying the 120 million Euros that is his reported buy out clause, is probably too much of an ask, but his stats are impressive.
Last season he played 59 games in all competitions, conceding 45 goals and keeping 25 clean sheets, his save ratio was 73.3%
In 2019/20 in La Liga he appeared in 38 matches, playing a total of 3396 minutes and conceding an average of 0.64 goals for every 90 minutes that he’s on the pitch. His Clean Sheets ratio in the league was 45%.
Oblak is a great communicator, quick off his line, holds a big percentage of the shots that he saves and is dominant in the air all around and just outside his six yard box. He’d be my joint number one choice. I know many people will take issue for me for making him my joint first choice but I rate another English keeper very highly and because of his Premier League experience, I’d make him equally as viable if not quite as technically gifted all round as Oblak.
The 28 year old Burnley and England shot stopper, stands 6’3” and is commanding in the air, in and around his six yard box.
He’s an excellent shot stopper and a good communicator. I honestly believe he’ll be England’s number one by the time the next major Championship come around, because his overall game, is for me, better than Pickford’s and that extra height advantage does make him more dominant in the air, which let’s face it is far more important in the Premier League than most other leagues around the world.
Last season he played 39 games and conceded 48 goals, whilst keeping 16 clean sheets. He had a save percentage of 71.1% and was a major contributor to Burnley, again cementing their status as a Premier League Club.
Conceding just 1.26 goals per game for Burnley over the course of a season is no mean feat and I think he’d be a great addition to the squad and one of the final pieces in Super Frankie Lampard’s jigsaw puzzle. Maybe the £50 price tag is just a step too far in this current transfer window though.
So is there a keeper out there who is affordable that I think would be a good addition to the squad and make us stronger?
I suspect there is. I’ve watched Predrag Rajkovic a fair bit. It’s so hard to assess someone who has only played in a League that’s far less physical than the Premier League but he looks the real deal, so don’t forget, you heard it here first.
The 6’3 24 year old Serbian International plays for Reims in Ligue 1 in France. In the 2019/20 season, he has played 27 matches for a total of 2430 minutes. He has conceded 18 goals and accrued 12 clean sheets. With 68 saves in total, he had a saves ratio of 79.1%.
An obviously excellent shot stopper, he tends to hold onto the ball a fair bit. A fair bit more than Mendy and a LOT more than Kepa and is commanding in the air, albeit in a less physical league.
I guess Chelsea scouts must have seen him but for me, he’s potentially a future world number 1. The fact that he could be picked up for less than 20 million Euros, would make him my preference to Mendy and would give Kepa competition, whilst also making us significantly stronger if he adapted to life in England well, which is always an unknown in any transfer scenario, players are only human after all.
So there we are, my thoughts on the goalkeeping situation and possible Kepa replacements.
I do think we need to replace Kepa or give him some stiff competition and it looks like, with Mendy, we are going for the latter. He’s an upgrade on Willy and on Kepa, judging him on last season, but for me, isn’t a long term fix.
Whoever wears the green jersey (showing my age) next season, I’ll be both supporting them in person, when we are allowed back in and I certainly won’t be slagging them off on social media. We are a team.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
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