The defence in front of Kepa Arrizabalaga continues to change but the Spaniard’s performances in the Chelsea goal remain remarkably consistent. That is a sign of the confidence with which he is playing – and that confidence was crucial in helping the Blues keep another clean sheet and claim a point against Brentford.
With Reece James and Wesley Fofana ruled out due to injury, Ben Chilwell not in the squad due to his workload being managed , and Thiago Silva only among the substitutes, Graham Potter selected a somewhat makeshift backline that was made up of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Cesar Azpilicueta, Trevoh Chalobah, Kalidou Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella.
It was a rearguard Brentford were able to find a way through; the Bees tend to create chances no matter the opposition. That is when Chelsea needed Kepa to step up and the 28-year-old did so maturely. In the opening 45 minutes, he made two good stops to deny Ivan Toney and wasn’t afraid to step out of his penalty area when required to sweep up.
After the interval, Kepa denied Bryan Mbuemo from close range and stopped Toney once more. There was also a rather nonchalant piece of chest control to bring down a speculative Mbuemo effort from close to the halfway line. That in itself is another sign of the self-belief Kepa is now playing with. Still, clean sheets aren’t achieved alone, especially five in succession. Kepa needs those in front of him to defend well and take charge when required.
And with Silva, Chelsea have the ideal defensive leader. The Brazilian didn’t feature from the bench yesterday evening but still made his presence known. It was during one of the Brazilian’s warm-ups on the touchline that he bellowed instructions across the pitch to Kepa, who duly took on board the guidance of his 38-year-old teammate en route to another shutout.
“Kepa [Arrizabalaga] was fantastic,” said a rueful Thomas Frank, the Brentford head coach, after the goalless draw. “Every time Chelsea come here, their goalkeeper is man of the match.”
Havertz’s form a concern
Now into his third season as a Chelsea player, Kai Havertz remains an enigma. The German is obviously hugely talented, a player who marries technical quality with high-energy pressing in the middle and final thirds. Yet far too often, the 23- year-old can drift through matches. That was the case against Brentford.
Havertz was deployed off Armando Broja in the opening period but had very little impact. The home side crowded the Germany international out of the game and it wasn’t until midway through the second period, when he was moved into the number nine position, that Havertz flickered into life.
There was one snapshot after nice work from Christian Pulisic that forced David Raya into a smart stop, but that was the extent of Havertz’s influence in the penalty area. For a player that cost Chelsea £71million to sign from Bayer Leverkusen, it is simply not enough. The Blues need more. Will Havertz start at the weekend against Manchester United? It feels unlikely.
Not only did Broja have an impact on his full debut and Pulisic impress off the bench, Potter confirmed after the game that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was only given the final ten minutes of the game to manage his minutes. He will be rested for Saturday. The Chelsea head coach said:
“it’s the load of him, he’s played a lot, and it gives the chance for Kai to score and play, and we were close with that.”
Potter puts faith in Chukwuemeka
The fee that brought Carney Chukwuemeka to Chelsea from Aston Villa in the summer was certainly not insignificant; the Blues committed to paying £15million for the teenager with a further £5million dependent on add-ons. Still, many viewed the midfielder as a long-term investment, one for the future.
That was certainly how the 18-year-old was viewed by Thomas Tuchel but it appears Potter is far more willing to give Chukwuemeka immediate first-team minutes. When he made his debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers a little more than a week ago, it felt like a nice gesture given the game was wrapped up.
But against Brentford, Chukwuemeka was introduced with the game goalless and ahead of an experienced star:
Hakim Ziyech. It was a sign of trust from the Chelsea head coach. “If you look at his attributes,” Potter explained when asked about the change, “he’s a big powerful boy that can run and run away from people. “In a game like Brentford, you’re often in duels and need physicality, and I thought he and Christian did well when they came on. They affected the game. That was just the thinking. He’s a young player, but he’s got exciting attributes. We just need to help him reach his potential because his potential is exciting.”