Graham Potter faces difficult decision with major Thomas Tuchel strength now a Chelsea problem – REAL CHELSEA FANS      

Graham Potter faces difficult decision with major Thomas Tuchel strength now a Chelsea problem


It wasn’t too long ago that goalkeeper appeared a position of major strength for Chelsea. The undisputed first choice was the dependable Edouard Mendy, who played a sizeable role in the club’s 2021 Champions League triumph. And Kepa Arrizabalaga – confidence restored after a hugely difficult spell – was the Senegal international’s deputy.

“We are very privileged to have Edou and Kepa in our squad,” said Thomas Tuchel at the end of last season. “I know that Kepa is not happy about the situation – he deserves to play more and he can be a strong number one. I can tell you that he is a fantastic team player since day one and always was and never let anybody down. As a coach, I’m super happy to have two strong goalkeepers.”

Kepa explored a move away from Stamford Bridge in the summer but genuine interest in the world’s most expensive goalkeeper (£71.3million) from clubs in Serie A came to nothing. His salary, around £190,00-a-week, was a major stumbling block as to why a loan switch could not be financed.

Mendy’s future was also a subject of discussion ahead of the 2022/23 campaign. The contract he signed on arrival from Rennes in a deal worth £22million in September 2020 put him as one of the lowest earners in the senior squad. Given his accomplishments under Tuchel, a new deal was offered. Yet it was turned down.

It’s understood the base salary put to Mendy was lower than that earned by Kepa, whose contract runs until 2025. Given Mendy’s status as the club’s number one at the start of the campaign, his decision not to agree terms was understandable. Although one that has now backfired. In what proved Tuchel’s final match in charge, Mendy was replaced in the side by Kepa. A knee injury was to blame but the 30-year-old’s form had been patchy for several months and high- profile mistakes had been made.

It was a change that many felt needed to be made. Chelsea lost against Dinamo Zagreb without Mendy and Tuchel departed just days later . Graham Potter was brought in as the German coach’s replacement and with Mendy sidelined, Kepa continued between the posts. And he produced an impressive run to reassert himself in the starting XI.

“I’m feeling very well, with confidence,” said Kepa in October. “Self-confidence, belief in your work, in what you’re doing, and belief in the process is very important. I had really tough moments. I had really good moments. In the end, it’s like life. You have ups and downs and you have to be strong mentally, sticking with your ideas and keeping working.”

Kepa started Potter’s opening ten matches in charge. For eight of those Mendy was on the substitutes’ bench. Their roles had very much been reversed. However, away at Brighton and Hove Albion, an injury forced Kepa off the pitch at half time and he missed the subsequent five matches. Chelsea won just one of those; a dead rubber against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League.

Mendy completed 90 minutes in each and conceded six goals, although he was not directly to blame for any. He then departed to join up with the Senegal squad for the World Cup. Meanwhile, Kepa continued his recovery from plantar fasciitis. It is a complex injury. The problem can occur through sudden damage or over months and years. It can cause tiny tears to develop inside the tissue of the plantar fascia and this can lead to it thickening, resulting in heel pain. The surrounding tissue and heel bone can also become inflamed. Kepa has continued his comeback during this week’s warm-weather training camp in Abu Dhabi.

“He is not quite with the team yet but has stepped up his rehab,” said Potter on Wednesday. The hope is the Spain international can be reintegrated back into training in the days ahead. With Mendy set to rejoin the squad next week following Senegal’s elimination from the World Cup, Potter should have ample time to assess who takes the starting goalkeeper role against Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge when the Premier League campaign restarts on December 27. It is a big decision, and one that will inform the hierarchy for the remainder of the campaign.

Beyond that, however, there is uncertainty. Little progress has been made regarding a new contract for Mendy, who is now in a far weaker negotiating position than in the summer. And while Kepa has performed strongly since Potter’s arrival, has been told discussions have taken place between the new ownership group over potential goalkeeper targets for next summer. It’s understood that going forward, those at the helm at Stamford Bridge do not want to repeat the frantic nature of the previous transfer window.

Long-term planning isn’t simply wanted, it is being demanded. The as-yet-completed recruitment team should help in this regard. Whether Mendy or Kepa fit into the long-term vision for the first-team squad remains to be seen – and something unlikely to be answered until the end of the campaign. But in the short term, Potter has to decide who is his number one and who will play a support role. It isn’t a simple call.

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