Let’s take the emotion out of this decision. Last season, if you had to pick one position that Chelsea could improve where would it be? Would it have been a striker? Surely not after Tammy Abraham had just scored 15 league goals to get the side into the top 4. Would it have a creative midfielder? Maybe, Mason Mount did carry a large load of Frank Lampard’s goalscoring threat from midfield, that is true. Potentially you would have gone for a centre-back, Lampard struggled to settle on his chosen two last season and the defence looked void of any leaders or standout players. You would also be able to put up a very persuasive argument that because full-backs have changed football so much recently that replacing Marcos Alonso and Emerson was the most necessary.
But, look at the stats. None of these positions cost Chelsea as much as the goalkeeper. Mount, Alonso, Emerson, Abraham, Willian, Pedro, or Jorginho all came in for criticism last season, but nobody was as bad as Kepa.
Statistically, he was the worst goalkeeper in all of the top five leagues. He has the worst save percentage of all Premier League goalkeepers to play over 10 games and he conceded over 11 goals more than he should have according to Opta last season. How do you build a team from that? You can’t.
A Men-dy mountain
So, you can have your Timo Werner’s, your Kai Havertz’s, and Ben Chilwell’s, you can even have Thiago Silva in front of him, maybe with keeper gloves on, Chelsea wasn’t winning anything with Kepa.
Therefore, all Edouard Mendy had to do was be vaguely competent in goal and he would have been Chelsea’s signing of the season. Even a bang average keeper would be such an improvement that they would win the category of Most important signing, biggest improvement, and arguably biggest surprise as well. That is pretty conclusive evidence on Mendy’s part.
However, let’s look at his games so far and you can see that he’s already done more than be competent. The Senegalese giant already has a better save percentage than Kepa this season, by quite a distance too (78.18% vs 68.8%)That’s just one stat though, but there aren’t many, if any, that Kepa will better Mendy in. Whether that’s this season or last, Mendy is so far clear that despite his huge frame, Kepa can’t see him he’s that far in the distance.
A strong base to build from
Other than his shot-stopping, physique, aerial ability, and communication with the back four Mendy has instilled the feeling of solidity in the whole Chelsea squad. Midfielders and attackers are now reassured of their keeper’s presence, not scared of it.
Meanwhile, the defence looks like a true unit for the first time since Antonio Conte’s reign. Every player is aware of their role and has the trust that the players around them will do their role as well. This can’t happen without a keeper that has the trust and confidence of those in front of him.
Chelsea’s set-piece improvement is not just because Silva and Kurt Zouma can win headers, it’s because they can play a higher line and allow Mendy to command and use the space to Chelsea’s advantage. From corners, defensively the Blue’s know that they don’t have to worry about their keeper flapping or being indecisive. If nothing else it makes subconscious decisions and they are usually positive ones. Without Mendy, this can’t happen.
Kepa cost Chelsea a win against Southampton. It really doesn’t matter which way you look at it but his mistake for the second goal has cost Chelsea three points. We can’t replay the game and tell you what Mendy would have done but from past experiences, it is clear that Kepa will not bail out his defenders. He won’t, hasn’t, and unfortunately can’t make the game-saving changes or produce match-winning moments for a team of Chelsea’s calibre. Mendy has shown the aura of a goalkeeper that will back the mistakes in front of him and be more than a last resort.
Attack from the back
One standout difference between Mendy and Kepa is the ability to deal with crosses, something the Spaniard has struggled with since coming to England. However, Mendy has such good positioning and mentality towards balls into the box it allows him to be attacking. Meaning Chelsea has a forward-thinking positive approach from the back which will result in mistakes. But, coming for balls and being on the front foot he will save his defenders countless times more than he messes up.
This bides well into Frank Lampard’s philosophy for Chelsea, be positive, energetic, and expressive. Mendy does this as a keeper but more importantly, he allows his team to do the same. The phrase is that attack wins games and defence wins titles. Lampard has now got trust in his keeper so has been able to implement his attacking style knowing that the defence is capable of carrying out their roles. Chelsea’s attack scored 3 goals against Southampton, at home that should always be enough to win games, without a goalkeeper that can back that up at the other end of the pitch, Chelsea can’t win games, let alone titles.
The better keeper
In a position that is largely hard to take a subjective view on, a goalkeeper is either good enough or he’s not. If you look around the Chelsea squad there are always ways to argue that Abraham might be a better fit for a game than Werner up-front or that resting Havertz and Chilwell are options.
With Mendy and Kepa, there isn’t an argument, the risk that Lampard would take in playing Kepa in a game in which his hand is not entirely forced is too big. Kepa’s confidence in himself is gone, the feeling of others towards him left a long time ago.
There is no tactical battle between goalkeepers, the best keepers will play for the best teams. If a keeper fits and does well at one team then the risk in bringing them to another team is smaller than with outfield players. In this situation, Mendy is hands down the better keeper out of the two.
Mendy is the biggest man for man improvement in this Chelsea team and it’s hard to argue otherwise. Without Mendy then the defensive structure that we have seen this season is almost impossible. If you were to replace Mendy with Kepa for the games played this month it is hard to think that the results will have been anywhere near as good and that the confident feeling around the club would be anywhere near as vibrant. Mendy, whether it is down to him or the Kepa fiasco, has transformed Chelsea.
Written by Tom Coley @tomcoley49
Edited by Jai Mcintosh @jjmcintosh5