Chelsea’s staggering outlay of more than $250 million on players ahead of the new season failed to address arguably the biggest problem area in the team.
Frank Lampard hopes he is putting that right by signing Senegal goalkeeper Édouard Mendy.
In a move that will throw the future of error-prone Kepa Arrizabalaga — the world’s most expensive keeper — into further doubt, Chelsea was on the verge of signing Mendy for a reported fee of 22 million pounds ($27.75 million) from Rennes on Tuesday.
Mendy was having a medical examination, Lampard confirmed, with a view to joining in time to play against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
If Chelsea is to have a realistic shot at the big trophies this season, it was a move that needed to be made — even taking into account the club’s record spree already in this summer’s transfer market.
Kepa — to put it bluntly — was becoming a liability, his confidence shrinking seemingly with every game.
The 25-year-old Spaniard began this season as the No. 1 despite losing his place to 38-year-old understudy Willy Caballero for stages of last season. Signed for $92 million in 2018, Kepa has been putting up some of the worst goalkeeping statistics over the last two seasons, according to the English Premier League’s official stat supplier, Opta.
For example, no goalkeeper has conceded more league goals from outside the penalty area than Kepa (19) since 2018. Opta also said that using “expected” data, he conceded 11 more goals than its model would expect a goalkeeper to concede — the worst figure of any keeper in the division.
So, it came as something of a surprise that Kepa was entrusted to start the season in goal — and that Chelsea hadn’t already signed a goalkeeper as part of its massive recruitment drive.
He has again shown he isn’t up to the job by letting a long-range shot by midfielder Leandro Trossard fly under his arms in the 3-1 win over Brighton in the opening round. Worse was to come against Liverpool on Sunday, when Kepa tried to pass the ball out from the back only to see it intercepted by Sadio Mane, who slotted away the loose ball for the second goal in a 2-0 win for the champions.
It might prove to be one of the last sightings of Kepa in a Chelsea jersey.
“It is the hardest position because of the individual nature of it and because the mistakes generally get punished with goals,” Lampard said on Tuesday. “That doesn’t happen necessarily in other parts of the pitch. So the eye can easily be drawn to that, and I understand it.
“I also know you have to be sympathetic to that point. Last year, I changed the goalkeeper between Kepa and Willy a few times, and when I do it, I do it with a different thought process to how I do it with outfield players. … But at the same time, we are always striving for the best performance we can get.”
And that means taking Kepa out of the team, starting on Wednesday for the English League Cup match against second-tier Barnsley, when Caballero is due to start.
Mendy differs from Kepa in that he is a very vocal presence and commands his area well. He is quick and agile, and highly regarded as a good shot-stopper.
“With Mendy coming in, it’s more competition,” Lampard said. “Every reaction will have to be positive around that — for Kepa, for Mendy — to push to try to play in this team. We know the standards required of a goalkeeper in this team.”
Asked if he sees Mendy being first choice, Lampard said: “Competition is a regular thing at a club like Chelsea. I know the goalkeeper situation is not always as clear-cut as that, but that is where we’re at.
“I’m not making any final statements at all at the minute.”
Actions will speak louder than words, though.
It will be a major surprise if, having passed his medical and tested negative for COVID-19 in a check on Thursday, Mendy isn’t given his debut at West Brom at the weekend.
Chelsea then has a decision to make over whether to cut its losses on a player who remains the club’s record purchase but who will go down as one of the biggest flops in the Premier League’s history.