How to solve a problem like Kepa: Chelsea facing expensive goalkeeper conundrum

Kepa Arrizabalaga Chelsea 2019-20
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The £71 million shot-stopper's future has been thrown into further doubt after he was dropped to the bench for Sunday's crucial clash with Wolves

As a goalkeeper, being dropped once during the course of a season before being reinstated can be regarded as a warning from a manager to buck your ideas up.

Being dropped twice, however, suggests patience has worn out, particularly when that second occasion comes on the day of your club's biggest game of the campaign.

That is exactly the situation Kepa Arrizabalaga finds himself in at Chelsea.

The world's most expensive goalkeeper was left out for five matches back in February by Frank Lampard, but his ascension back into the starting line-up since suggested that he would at least be given time to prove his doubters wrong.

After being again named on the bench for last week's must-not-lose clash with Wolves in the Premier League however, the writing is now on the wall for the Spain international.

He will likely again be among the substitutes at Wembley Stadium on Saturday as the Blues take on Arsenal in the FA Cup final, with Willy Caballero set to be preferred for both that match and their upcoming Champions League clash with Bayern Munich.

There is even a chance that Kepa has played his last game in a Chelsea shirt. Having paid £71 million ($91m) for him just two years ago, he threatens to be one of the Blues' most expensive mistakes.

It is understood that Lampard is yet to tell any player that they are surplus to requirements as he aims to avoid distractions ahead of the final.

But with the club hierarchy openly scouting for possible replacements, it seems Kepa is now on borrowed time.

Performance advisor Petr Cech and goalkeeping scout Christophe Lollichon have been providing their expertise in the quest for a new No.1, but options are scarce.

Jan Oblak at Atletico Madrid has been highlighted as a potential target, though Atleti would not accept an offer below the Slovenia international's €120m (£110m/$137.5m) release clause.

Nick Pope at Burnley has also been discussed, but the Clarets are unlikely to be willing to sell a player who kept 15 Premier League clean sheets last season.

Ajax's Andre Onana, meanwhile, would be open to a move to the English capital, but with signings in other positions - such as Kai Havertz and Ben Chilwell - a priority, Chelsea do not want to be spending huge amounts, particularly if they cannot offload Kepa.

The 25-year-old still has five years remaining on his £170,000-a-week contract in west London, with Chelsea director Marina Granovskia keen to recoup the money the club paid for Kepa if they sell this summer.

Kepa Arrizabalaga

Valencia have shown an interest in taking him on a two-year loan deal, but the Blues want a permanent sale as they aim to remain financially stable amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chelsea face a summer where very few top clubs other than themselves are looking to sign a new first-choice goalkeeper while Kepa's statistics do not make pretty viewing for prospective buyers.

Based on Opta's expected goals on target model, Kepa allowed 11 more goals in the Premier League than the model would have expected, which ranks him last among the division's shot-stoppers in 2019-20.

He saved just 53.5 per cent of the shots he faced - a percentage that ranks as the second-worst among Premier League goalkeepers to play 10 or more games in a single campaign since 2003-04. The worst belongs to current Chelsea goalkeeping coach, Hilario.

Such performances have seen the ex-Athletic Club man become the target of a #KepaOut social media campaign, with a vocal minority of supporters keen to make it clear they do not want him to be part of their team any longer.

That abuse is unlikely to help the confidence of a man whose last action in a Chelsea shirt finished with him being berated by his own defenders for not claiming a cross against Liverpool having already conceded five goals at Anfield.

Premier League save percentage GFX

“I have long, hard think about everything, not just individual positions but how we are as a team," Lampard said following the victory over Wolves when asked about Kepa. "The idea that we haven’t kept a clean sheet is definitely not just a reflection of the goalkeeper, but something that we have to work on as a team.

"I don’t want to pinpoint it on Kepa today. The Kepa decision was a choice, probably given recent form and the recent situation it has been a tough time for him."

Kepa has overcome challenges already in his short Chelsea career. Saturday, of course, will see him return to the scene of his most infamous moment in England after he refused to be substituted in the 2019 Carabao Cup final.

Despite that very public falling out with Maurizio Sarri he was able to resurrect his reputation through the remainder of the campaign. This time he and Lampard seem at the point of no return.

Whether that means he will not be at the club in September, though, is another matter. Selling the world's most expensive goalkeeper during a pandemic is far from straightforward.