Thomas Tuchel has handed Kepa Arrizabalagaa lifeline to try and revive his faltering Chelsea career after selecting him to start in back-to-back fixtures.
The hapless goalkeeper’s time at Stamford Bridge has been increasingly littered with a string of high-profile errors since his £72million transfer in 2018.
Ex-Chelsea boss Frank Lampard had seen enough in the summer when he moved to replace Kepa with new signing Edouard Mendy.
But the former Rennes stopper has not been particularly convincing either, and it appears Tuchel is willing to give Kepa a final chance to prove his worth, after starting him between the sticks against Newcastle on Monday.
“Well we need a strong Kepa in our squad and he had a good game in the cup so we decided to give him another match to build up a bit of rhythm, a little bit of confidence, to trust,” Tuchel said, ahead of the Premier League clash.
“At the same time, Edu [Mendy] the chance to mentality recover – it’s a demanding position mentally and concentration wise. With one decision we have both advantages.”
Kepa actually played in Lampard’s final match in charge – the 3-1 FA Cup win over Luton – during which he let a comfortable shot squirm past him and into the net.
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The Spaniard did keep a clean sheet in the fifth round tie against Barnsley, but Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville does not believe Kepa possesses the quality to hold down the No.1 spot long term.
“I think it’s big [the decision. I thought we’d seen the last of him,” Neville said. “Thomas Tuchel since he’s come in has restricted shots on his goal. I think he’ll need to do that with Kepa as we’ve seen from his form in recent games.
“But managers when they come in, particularly top managers, believe they can improve players so he maybe thinks he can get a tune out of Kepa.
“I have to say he looked well short of what a top goalkeeper would be the last time we saw him and honestly I thought he would be replaced and gone forever.”
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Asked what the reasons would be behind Tuchel’s decision, Neville replied: “I think there’s a number of things.
“1. I think the club will probably say ‘we want you to get the best out of these players we’ve paid a fortune for’ – so that might be part of the brief on the way in.
“Secondly he’s giving everyone a chance. And thirdly is probably the arrogance of a top manager thinking he can improve everybody by the fact they’re working with him now when the last manager couldn’t get the best out of him.
“I’d be surprised if we see Kepa turn around his fortunes at that club because I have to say he looked… not what I think a goalkeeper should be, which is dominant in every single area, in his box, his presence, and he’s just not.”