Edouard Mendy faces harsh Chelsea reality under Graham Potter but needs to follow Kepa example


When Graham Potter was appointed Chelsea head coach , there were numerous players in the first- team squad who were handed a ‘second chance’ at Stamford Bridge. Just look at Trevoh Chalobah, for example. The 23-year-old defender was somewhat frozen out under the previous manager Thomas Tuchel, but following an unfortunate injury to Wesley Fofana last week , he has now started back-to-back matches for Chelsea for the first time since the end of last season.

Another man who has been handed another chance with the Blues is Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Spanish goalkeeper signed for Chelsea back in 2018 for an astonishing £71million. There were huge expectations, and you can understand why considering the £71m Chelsea splashed out was – and still is to this day – a world-record transfer fee for a goalkeeper.

Kepa was given two seasons as Chelsea’s first- choice between the posts, first under Maurizio Sarri and then working with Frank Lampard. The latter eventually – with a big helping hand from Petr Cech – signed Edouard Mendy from Rennes in the summer of 2020.

Mendy was brought in to replace Kepa after a few high-profile mistakes cost him his place at Stamford Bridge. Mendy arrived in west London and looked a shrewd piece of business. He looked calm and composed when in possession, and his shot-stopping was extraordinary.

The Senegal international helped Chelsea win their second UEFA Champions League trophy under Tuchel in 2021 in what was a brilliant debut campaign in England for the goalkeeper.

His second season was also superb, and there were no signs that Kepa would be handed another chance anytime soon. Over the 2022 summer transfer window, it looked all but certain Kepa would depart Chelsea, either on loan or on a permanent basis. Napoli were very interested in the Spaniard, but a deal could never be concluded with the Blues.

So Kepa stayed put, but under Tuchel, there was no sign the former Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper would get back into the side. However, a poor start to the season from Mendy, alongside a knee injury he picked up against West Ham United last month, paved the way for an unlikely return.

He was picked for Potter’s first match in charge against Red Bull Salzburg last month, with Mendy injured. Mendy was still unavailable for selection against Crystal Palace after the two-week international break, but many thought once he was fit again for selection, he would come straight back into the XI.

When AC Milan came to Stamford Bridge last Wednesday, however, it was Kepa who kept his place in the side. The Spaniard had done nothing wrong when called upon, and Potter even explained how Kepa gives Chelsea the edge when playing out from defence.

“It’s important for us. At times, we have to play through the pressure, and it gives you the chance to attack the next line,” Potter said on the importance of Kepa. “So it’s an important aspect of the team. But ultimately, they [the goalkeepers] are there to save the ball for us as well, and he did that when he had to.”

Mendy now faces the harsh reality that he could be the number two goalkeeper – for the time being, anyway – under Potter. He needs to follow the example set by Kepa over the past two seasons.

The Spaniard has never complained, not publicly anyway, regarding his status in the squad. He’s got his head down, focused on improving and waited for his chance. For the most part, whenever he has been handed a rare opportunity, he seized the chance.

Now, with Chelsea’s form turning around in recent games, Kepa is part of a Blues side that has kept three clean sheets on the bounce. Right now, he looks like the favourite to start against Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon.

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