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Kepa Arrizabalaga and Frank Lampard – Are we seeing the personification of a player and the making of a manager?

Kepa Arrizabalaga, in winter 2018 – aged 23, was under the radar of Real Madrid with a release clause of €20 million. Playing for Athle...

Kepa Arrizabalaga, in winter 2018 – aged 23, was under the radar of Real Madrid with a release clause of €20 million. Playing for Athletic Bilbao since his youth days, then placed at 12th position, Kepa signed an extension until 2025 with a release clause of €80 million. In the summer transfer window, Chelsea came under pressure of buying a goalkeeper with Thibaut Courtois going AWOL and refusing to sign an extension. With Sarri at tje helm and need of a ball-playing goalkeeper, Chelsea ended up paying the release clause and signing Kepa until 2025. This transfer would make him Chelsea’s most expensive player and the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. This price tag brought along with itself “pressure”- pressure to perform and prove his value. In his initial parts of the season, Kepa was seen absorbing that pressure very well.
Kepa saved Lucas Moura penalty during a shootout in EFL Cup semis win against Spurs. In the dramatic loss against Manchester City in EFL finals, he refused to be substituted during ET. Sarri was concerned over cramping, whilst Kepa insisted that he was fine to continue. With Jorginho and Luiz missing penalties, Kepa saved Sane's penalty kick keeping Chelsea in-game until the 5th kick. This specific instance was seen by many as player arrogance – actually showed the mettle of the player. Once again during the penalty shoot-out against Eintracht Frankfurt, in Europa League semis, Kepa went on to save two penalties. Chelsea won the match and eventually the coveted European trophy. A bittersweet end to so-called Kepa-Sarri saga wherein both individuals won the first trophy in their career. The first season left no doubt in minds of fans and club regarding qualities Kepa had as goalkeeper and character.
Coming to the current season, with Frank Lampard at the helm, transfer ban, losing our best player and whole youth-to-first team integration process, Chelsea started the season with less expectations but great hopes. With great results in September, October and series of dismal performances from mid-November and December – Frank Lampard was under scrutiny from critics and colleagues alike. Defensively, Chelsea was not doing great since the start of the season - dead ball situations, set pieces, zonal marking, leadership in defence – concerns were endless, problems deeper. To add to the woes, there were a string of poor performances from Kepa.
Frank Lampard decided to drop Kepa after 2-2 draw at the Bridge against Arsenal. A brave decision from a young manager, Frank expected more from Kepa confirming that it is not the end of the road for the stopper. Willy Caballero started 4 PL games and 1 CL game, conceding 10 goals, with only one victory. With Henderson, Oblak and Onana speculations in the transfer market, once again Frank was ‘frank’ suggesting that the future of Kepa was in keepers’ hands. Kepa was given an opportunity to start against Liverpool, a victorious FA Cup 5th round match. ‘That triple save against Liverpool seemed to be the resurgence of the stopper. Clean sheets against Merseyside teams - Liverpool (FA Cup) and Everton (Premier League) has probably given a start that Chelsea needs to the end the season.
Frank Lampard stamped himself as a bold manager – not afraid to take hard decisions and leaving team selection to performances on field and reactions in training. Moreover, Frank managed the situation gracefully in media – making sure that player, rather whole squad, are receiving the message without being disrespectful. 
The question remains - Can Kepa keep up his performances? Can Chelsea have a solid end to the season? This needs to be seen but Kepa has a point to prove and Frank has an impression to leave.
Written by - @vashicfc

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