Can Kepa recover form at Chelsea?
Kepa Arrizabalaga was a world-record signing for a goalkeeper when Chelsea met the £71.6 million release clause in his contract in August 2018.
However, having looked a star at Athletic Bilbao, 18 months after his arrival in England, the Spaniard still has plenty to prove.
A product of Athletic’s fabled Lemaza academy, which he joined before secondary school, the Ondarroa-born shot-stopper was marked out for greatness in his teenage years when consistently selected for the Spanish youth teams.
Tasting European glory with La Roja’s Under-19s and Under-21s, all looked rosy for Kepa as he shone at the San Mames following spells with Los Leones’ B team and further first-team exposure at Ponferradina and Valladolid.
Real Madrid looked to sign the goalkeeper before he renewed his contract in January 2018 and Chelsea broke the bank for his signature the following summer.
By this time he was pushing David de Gea for the number one spot with Spain and, while he has 10 caps to his name, Kepa is not the same keeper we saw in La Liga, conceding 43 goals this season.
So much so that Frank Lampard selected veteran Willy Caballero for the 2-2 draw at Leicester and Monday’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester United.
The Argentinian hardly covered himself in glory and the boss is yet to indicate whether Kepa will be back for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off against Tottenham.
Lampard is not the first coach the youngster has fallen out with at Stamford Bridge. The 25-year-old famously ignored orders from Maurizio Sarri to leave the field during last season’s EFL Cup final.
— Daily Star Sport (@DailyStar_Sport) February 21, 2020
After going down injured, he claimed he was plainly wasting time, with Manchester City on top. What followed was a Sarri explosion, with it still uncertain whether he actually wanted to introduce penalty specialist Caballero for the shoot-out his side went on to lose.
Kepa sat out his team’s next two games, ironically against Tottenham and Leicester. A year after his outburst, his Chelsea future is again unclear, with Burnley’s Nick Pope believed to be the boss’ preferred transfer target.
Yes, being a world-record signing carries a burden. However, considering the man who previously held the benchmark for goalkeepers, Alisson, has a Champions League winner’s medal and looks set to win the Premier League, there is no comparison between the pair.
The Brazilian has kept 31 clean sheets in his 56 Premier League games, while Kepa has 19 despite playing four more times.
If you are looking for a comparison, De Gea might be the perfect example. The Manchester United stopper struggled in his early days in the Premier League, especially with the physicality compared to Spain before developing into the world’s best.
His form may have slipped at times, but Kepa should follow his example that hard work pays off.
But is it too late, especially with Bilbao linked with re-signing him? Lampard does not seem a man who changes his mind and unless something happens quickly, it could be offski for Arrizabalaga.