Chelsea’s season began on a positive note – a 3-1 win against Brighton away. The 1 goal conceded was dismissed mostly as a blip as snakebitten Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was lazily beaten from range by Brighton’s Belgian forward Leandro Trossard. Understat.com gave Trossard’s strike a 0.02 xG. This means that this attempt at goal is expected to score 1 in every 50 tries. Well, at least if the defense plays like they did we’ll be ok, right? Wrong.
Six days later, we had another Kepa “blip” against reigning Premier League champions Liverpool. On the stroke of halftime, Kepa brazenly rushed out of goal to try and meet Sadio Mane forty yards out. While Andreas Christensen was nearby, and mistakenly allowed Mane to get through, Christensen was not confident in Kepa’s chances of stopping Mane and he was subsequently hauled down for a professional last man foul – and a red card. While Chelsea were down 1-0 after a Mane header, they were still within striking range in the game. That all changed within 4 minutes of Mane’s first goal when Kepa gave him a second by playing the ball right to him inside the box. With the team forced to play down an attacker and Jorginho failing to convert a penalty, Chelsea’s comeback hopes were effectively over at 2-0 as the penalty was the only true chance mustered for the entire second half.
Following this was another disastrous effort against West Brom which saw us fortunate to earn a draw thanks to a furious second half comeback. After just two Edouard Mendy appearances, one of which resulted in a penalty loss to Jose Mourinho’s Spurs, the team found themselves on the opposite side of the comeback fence versus Southampton where a brilliant Werner display was wasted in the last minute of the match due to a cumulative combination of dodgy defending and another meme-worthy Kepa effort at trying to clear a weak back pass.
The Southampton match could’ve been Kepa’s last appearance in a Blues shirt, with Mendy healthy and having already corralled 6 clean sheets in just 7 matches. 2 of the last 3 have been UEFA Champions League 3+ goal batterings of Stade Rennais and FC Krasnodar respectively. The talent has always been there so why the sudden drastic increase in form? Ask any Chelsea fan who’s been able to catch our last few matches, and they’ll promptly tell you the team looks more assertive, creative, mature and confident.
This is a direct result of Mendy’s introduction into the team and the Senegalese’s exceptional form in his starts. The attack and midfield feel more relaxed about crafting attacks and less stressed about feeling pressured to score before they get scored on. Another byproduct of this is the defense being able to be more assertive and confident without having to worry about being punished if they put a foot wrong. Usually the group would be worried about conceding a goal as soon as opposition worked their way into a shot opportunity. Furthermore, the attack and midfield won’t have to force passes and shots as often without having to play from behind or fear for having to play from behind imminently.
Where do we go from here?
Next up, Chelsea have Newcastle and Sheffield, with Sheffield coming at the weekend. These are another two games that Chelsea shouldn’t feel pressured in but will have their work cut out for them to break down staunch defensive tactics from opposing managers. Mendy and the defense will have to keep on their toes to stand up the counter attacks of these two teams. With roughly two months until the opening of the winter transfer window, it would behoove Frank Lampard (and maybe Petr Cech, unless he wants to play?) to begin scouting for backup goalkeepers as their first transfer move of 2021.
Willy Caballero is actually older than Petr Cech, while Kepa should do an Alvaro Morata and get binned off somewhere to find his form and confidence elsewhere before he becomes totally useless and Chelsea are stuck with a mammoth wage bill to pay, like Arsenal and disgruntled #10 Mesut Ozil. That is for the future however, and for right now, Chelsea are in safe, huge hands thanks to Edouard Mendy.