Whisper it, but are errors starting to creep into Edouard Mendy’s game?
It’s a situation Chelsea supporters will dread, and for good reason. The Blues were besieged with several challenges with Kepa Arrizabalaga last term but the acquisition from Rennes looked to have spread calm across a backline that had lost every shred of assurance in the Spain international.
The 28-year-old Senegal keeper gave a prelude to his impressive shot-stopping on his League Cup debut at Tottenham Hotspur, before proving with performances vs Sevilla and, especially, Manchester United away that he could be relied upon between the sticks.
After over a year in charge, Mendy's presence between the sticks for Chelsea suggests Lampard's side would concede fewer head-scratching goals henceforth...and that lays a solid building block for the west London club. #CFC— Seye Omidiora (@theReal_SeyE) October 28, 2020
Piece on @GoalAfrica https://t.co/UyQGMMCQY3
Indeed, the presence of Mendy in goal and Thiago Silva in central defence had given Frank Lampard a foundation to finally build upon, but both were jointly culpable for the 1-0 defeat by Everton on Saturday night, a result that ended Chelsea’s 14-game unbeaten (17 if you include that Carabao Cup game at Spurs) run.
However, while observers have tried to paint the Brazil centre-back as equally blameworthy in the concession of the penalty, a closer inspection clearly puts the fault at Mendy’s door.
Admittedly, the South American was beaten in the preceding aerial duel by Dominic Calvert-Lewin from Jordan Pickford’s long ball upfield; still, he had the situation largely under control and looked to be easing the England forward away from goal.
Blues left-back Ben Chilwell was also close to his international teammate, meaning Mendy’s error of judgement could have arguably been avoided.
The mistake at Goodison Park followed the West African’s early error against Leeds United in the previous gameweek, an encounter the five-time Premier League champions roared back to win 3-1.
On that night at Stamford Bridge, the misunderstanding between the goalie and Kurt Zouma saw old boy Patrick Bamford take the ball beyond the onrushing Mendy to slot into an empty net. The pair seemed to leave the responsibility of dealing with Kalvin Phillips’ brilliant through-ball to each other, and that momentary period of indecision saw Marcelo Bielsa’s side edge in front.
The goalkeeper’s fault vs the newly-promoted side wasn’t costly, but Saturday’s was, which undoubtedly amplifies the consequences of Mendy clattering the in-form Everton striker.
As is usually the case with Lampard, the Chelsea boss didn’t single out the towering shot-stopper for the loss, instead choosing to express discontent at his team’s general attitude on Merseyside.
“He’s been fantastic since he’s been here. I don’t think it was clearly just his mistake either. The mentality of the team to deal with second balls in the early parts of the game wasn’t so good,” the club legend remarked post-game. “This is a team who are well organised, who wanted to stop us playing.
"When you give them that head start it’s very difficult. We didn’t quite do enough but I don’t think we necessarily deserved to lose the game.
“We are a work in progress and nights like tonight may happen. I don’t like them, but that’s the challenge for us. We need to bounce back very strong. Let’s see on Tuesday.”
Choosing to be ever-diplomatic was understandable; after all his team had been impressive for the majority of their unbeaten run, showing they could be expressive as they were vs Leeds and could shut up shop if need be, as seen at United.
The immediate goal will be avoiding a repeat of the Goodison showing at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday, where they were second-best for intensity, as well as prevent a slump reminiscent to last year in which the Blues faltered significantly in the winter after an impressive unbeaten run in the autumn.
As for Mendy, the sky certainly isn’t falling as he remains a formidable goalkeeper, even though reservations will now start to grow over his sweeping adeptness and overall decision-making when he has to rush out from his goal-line.
The two mistakes were striking due to the Senegal star’s choice to commit to winning the ball when a more-measured approach will have given his defenders more time to stop the opposition’s attack — Everton — or made the forward’s job a bit more difficult than easily going past him to slot into an empty net — Leeds.
Knowledgeable observers will quickly point out that it’s par for the course to have the goalkeeper off his line when the backline generally maintains a high line. While this is true, it means the Senegal goalkeeper has to improve that side of his game going forward as he’ll be put in those situations intermittently for the rest of the season and his career at the club.
Despite the mistake, though, an encouraging sign for Lampard was how Mendy seemed unflappable for the remainder of the encounter and made a few saves to thwart Richarlison from adding to Everton’s advantage. Had the Blues been a bit more free-flowing in the final third and equalized, the headlines may have focused on the ex-Rennes man keeping his below-par teammates in the game in which they eventually forced a draw.
However, Chelsea were left to rue an early gaffe by their shot-stopper whose impact in West London has been immense. Wolves will present another challenge for Mendy, who will want to avoid any sticky moments at Molineux.
It is, frankly, the last thing Lampard and supporters can afford, especially after the headache endured in 2019/20 with Kepa who lost the confidence of the men in front of him and led them to the assured Senegal colossus.