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What now for Kepa Arrizabalaga at Chelsea?

With a new coach at the helm for Chelsea in Thomas Tuchel, what does the future hold now for Kepa Arrizabalaga? His days at Stamford Bridge looked numbered. But With Tuchel’s policy of giving everyone a chance, is there a way back for the young Spaniard?

Kepa’s decline in confidence over the past year has been dramatic. Signed for a world-record fee for a goalkeeper in 2019, the £72m fee weighed heavily. Signed by Italian Maurizio Sarri, his form overall seemed decent until the odd mistake crept in out of nowhere. And then it snowballed.

Kepa Arrizabalaga's market value as of February 2021.
Kepa’s market value as of February 2021, which has risen and dropped dramatically, just like his confidence (source: transfermarkt.co.uk)

It didn’t take long for the next coach Frank Lampard to lose faith with Kepa. With the signing of Edouard Mendy from Rennes for £22m, his career at Chelsea looked over.

Suddenly, with Kepa Arrizabalaga now valued much less, what would happen next for the player and the club? Could Chelsea cut their losses and offload him? Who would take him?!

Tuchel arrives – another chance?

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Since Thomas Tuchel arrived at Chelsea, he’s given many of Lampard’s fringe players and outcasts a chance to impress. This means Andreas Christensen, Marcos Alonso and Kepa himself have been drafted in at various times, to good effect.

It’s unclear what Tuchel’s motives are here. He could either be a very clever man-manager, appeasing as many players as possible and lifting squad morale, creating a meritocracy. Or he could be placing these players in the transfer window, in an attempt to recoup some of their huge wages and transfer fees.

In Kepa’s case, this would be understandable. With his value dropping so much in the past year, the Chelsea hierarchy might be sweating over making such a massive loss. Game time under Tuchel might push that fee back up again, for a keeper that’s still only 26.

But it could just as easily backfire if he fumbles the Blues into trouble again.

What now for Kepa Arrizabalaga?

Tuchel has publicly declared Edouard Mendy is his number 1 goalkeeper – a wise move for a player also struggling with some confidence issues. So he’s simultaneously massaging the egos of both of his top goalkeepers. So far so good.

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In many ways, Tuchel and Chelsea are in a low-risk situation – if not completely risk-free. Kepa is a confidence player. His poor form has perpetuated itself through bad press and pressure to perform. What we saw under Lampard was a young player crumbling under the expectation of a huge fee, and the pressure of playing for a top club.

Rotating him and keeping him in with a shout might be the conditions Kepa needs to rehabilitate. And for Chelsea, well, competition is a good thing. All top clubs need 2 top players for every position, goalkeeper included.

With that in mind, selling Kepa might prove to be more of a mistake than piling on so much pressure onto the young goalkeeper in the first place.

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© Mike Barclay at The Football Diary 2020