Kepa Arrizabalaga, the goalkeeper, appears to be finally living up to his price tag, making him the season’s biggest redemption tale.
When Chelsea paid £71.6 million to wrest the Spaniard away from Athletic Bilbao in 2018, it set a new global record for a signing.
Kepa’s tenure in the Blues goal has been unpredictable, which has frequently angered supporters.
In the 2019 League Cup final, when Maurizio Sarri sought to replace him with Willy Caballero for the penalty shootout that they ultimately lost, he made a memorable refusal to be replaced.
Before Edouard Mendy was signed, the 28-year-old was even benched in favor of the seasoned goalie by Frank Lampard.
In his first season, Mendy, who was hired in September 2020, helped them win the Champions League. He has been without a doubt the team’s No. 1.
Since the 2020–21 season began, Kepa has played 36 times, while Mendy has played 99 times.
It appeared as though the Spaniard would depart Chelsea in the summer, and Chelsea was more than happy to cut their losses on him. However, nothing happened.
Kepa vs Mendy – 2022/23 season
Played – 6
Minutes – 540
Goals conceded per 90 – 1.5
Clean sheets – 1
Saves per 90 – 3
Save percentage – 66.7 per cent
Goals conceded – 9
Expected goals conceded – 8.7
Goals prevented – -0.3
Passes per 90 – 22
Pass accuracy – 78 per cent
Played – 3
Minutes – 270
Goals conceded per 90 – 0.3
Clean sheets – 2
Saves per 90 – 3.7
Save percentage – 91.7 per cent
Goals conceded – 1
Expected goals conceded – 4.2
Goals prevented – 3.2
Passes per 90 – 28.7
Pass accuracy – 82.6 per cent
Thomas Tuchel, the manager of Chelsea at the time, stated, “He tried and investigated his possibilities, which we were aware of.” He stayed since neither he nor we found them to be satisfying.
But this season, everything has changed for Kepa as Mendy made a string of errors that cost him his position.
The Spaniard has now been the No. 1 for the new boss Graham Potter and has excelled in the last three Premier League games.
He has only given up one goal in those three games and has made an average of 3.7 saves per contest for a save percentage of 91.7.
Despite playing in less games than other goalkeepers, according to Opta Stats, he has stopped 3.2 goals, more than any other keeper.
In six games, Mendy allowed nine goals to be scored, stopped only 66.7 percent of the shots he faced, and had a goals prevented figure of -0.3.
Kepa garnered a lot of acclaim for his outstanding seven saves against Aston Villa, which helped him keep a clean sheet.
Potter said: “Really pleased for him because we needed him today. Aston Villa made us suffer in the second period of the first half especially.
“Some fantastic saves, of course that’s what he’s there for, but we needed him.”
The Spaniard himself admitted confidence was high and he was now enjoying his time at Chelsea.
He said: “I’m feeling very well, with confidence, with and without the ball. Self-confidence and belief in your work, in what you’re doing, and belief in the process is very important.
“Of course, I had really tough moments. I had really good moments, but in the end, it’s like life. You have ups and downs, and you have to be strong mentally, stick with your ideas and keep working. Now I am enjoying all the work.”
Kepa has not been the most popular of Chelsea players in recent seasons, but he is more than earning back their support and respect.
Former Charlton and Tottenham striker Darren Bent gave him huge credit for his turnaround.
Bent stated to talkSPORT: “He has played in several games for the team. He’s played 90 minutes, and I believe he’s now scored seven times in a row.
“He made his debut against Zagreb before Mendy’s injury gave him his chance, and he has been doing admirably ever since.
“It has to do with his catching up. Fair credit to him; he’s dealt with a lot since joining Chelsea. The price tag and subsequent events in the Carabao Cup final where he refused to exit.”