Willy Caballero has been preferred to Kepa Arrizabalaga in Chelsea’s last two games, read a technically correct yet also in a sense incorrect line in a recent report about the goalkeeper situation at Stamford Bridge.
Caballero, the veteran backup — who’s probably the last ever Chelsea player who’s older than me, he mused mournfully — was of course always going to start the FA Cup match. But it was the second start, away at Leicester City in the league just before the winter break, that dominated the headlines and truly blew the Kepa situation wide open.
What will the future hold for Kepa or Chelsea? Who knows. In the short-term, Kepa is expected to be restored to the starting lineup on Monday, when we take on Manchester United, although Lampard stopped short of actually revealing his decision in his pre-match press conference on Friday.
“It’ll be a decision for me to make. I’ve decided but you’ll have to wait to find out.”
Such a tease on Valentine’s Day!
Lampard did put in a good word for the 25-year-old under pressure goalkeeper, even if the narrative will undoubtedly focus on the more generic proclamations about every player having to fight for their place.
“The reaction from Kepa has been good as I’d expect, training hard, head down.”
“It doesn’t matter how you came to the club, what age you are, what part of your career you’re at. If it did, then I’d have to pick the whole team on how much they cost and it can’t be that way. All the players know that. It’s all about how you train every day and how you play on match day. I have to have that competition within the squad.”
Should Kepa be restored to start against Manchester United on Monday, the move to drop him will be contextualized as a “wake-up call” and “message sent” to the club’s record signing (and most expensive goalkeeper ever) that he shouldn’t be taking things for granted — especially if he does well and Chelsea win.
Lampard wasn’t willing to admit to that basic man-management move in public, which does leave open the door for the most sensationalist interpretations.
“I haven’t had lots of conversations with him this week [but] I wouldn’t say that and I wasn’t looking for [a wake-up call] necessarily. I spoke around the Leicester game and said I have to pick the game as I see it on form in every position. It was just a selection decision on that day.
“I know with goalkeepers there’s a bit more to it than that and we know that it’s a slightly different role to everybody else. He came out the team and I know how that will feel for him. It’s part and parcel of being a footballer and you have to show character in those little moments. I’m pleased with the reaction.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC
Actions speak louder than words, so we’ll just have to wait and see…