Roy Keane gives Kepa Arrizabalaga verdict after late Casemiro goal during Chelsea vs Man United
Chelsea – and Kepa Arrizabalaga – had conceded 6.43 xG before Casemiro’s looping, torturous header spun off the post and hung above the line for a split second before being confirmed as a last minute equaliser . That’s the brutal nature of football. Kepa had become Chelsea’s saviour after saving Graham Potter’s skin for three matches in a row.
At half-time against Brentford, Aston Villa and at Stamford Bridge with Manchester United, the Blues should have been behind. Kepa’s unexpected heroics meant that Potter could make tactical tweaks on level terms, or ahead as it was at Villa Park. His form, which is the best he’s had in a Chelsea shirt, has come as a surprise for many that not only believed the best of the £72m keeper had already been and gone – or at least lay elsewhere- but also because he was close to leaving the club.
Since Edouard Mendy’s arrival in 2020 Kepa has been little but a rotation option. Thomas Tuchel seemed to give him some confidence and opportunities, but Mendy was the first choice. Potter’s takeover came at a timely crossroads. Chelsea have started to consider the need for a new keeper anyway – regardless of form – as Kepa wanted out and wasn’t seen as a long-term option.
Mendy himself wasn’t settling with early contract talks and didn’t have a wealth of evidence behind him after enduring his worst period of performances since joining. The injury for the Senegalese stopper was the perfect backdrop for Potter to subtly use Kepa, a move he may have made anyway due to the Spaniard’s far superior ability with the ball at his feet. There’s no point trying to compare whether Mendy would have saved Casemiro’s header, and Kepa cannot be blamed for the goal as a whole.
How Luke Shaw had the time to pick a cross at the late stage of the game, Ben Chilwell’s positioning and Chelsea allowing both Scott McTominay and Casemiro a run at the ball in their own box are all more telling points. As the ball was floated in and Casemiro stopped backwards to direct his header goalwards though, the big hand from Kepa felt telling. A brilliant header nonetheless, it wouldn’t have been in the top three saves he made this week should it have been stopped.
And there is a matter that loomed in the background of a tactical chess game during a match made of perceived tension. No longer two teams fighting for the title, but Chelsea vs Manchester United has to be big. Two new managers with an air of calm rather than bitterness, top four will do if top has gone. The celebrations and moment meant that Kepa’s part in it was perhaps under analysed. Roy Keane said:
“I look at my goalkeeper… If you can get a hand to it, you can do a little bit more. But the header… look at the desire. If you’re in the Chelsea dressing room, you’d be sick. I’d be disappointed for my goalkeeper.”
He was one of the few to really pick up the 28- year-old for not turning the shot round the corner, and former Everton keeper Tim Howard is in agreement. “Credit Casemiro, it’s a good looping header. But I must say Kepa gets a full hand to the ball, he should be keeping that out,” Howard said on NBC Sports.
“He should be steering that around the post, would’ve been a really good save and that is a tight, tight call.”
It’s far from a mistake, but given Kepa’s form and the hope that he might have turned a corner, it was hard to feel that a world-class goalkeeper doesn’t make the save. His stature, at 6ft 1in, is smaller than most and immediately gives him a disadvantage to reaching shots. It’s unfair to criticise this element of his game, he can’t help it, but the decision to reach with his top hand may have taken out some of the extension he’s able to get.
Although often more natural for goalkeepers, top hand saves give less reach and that element of more touch needed for Kepa went missing. After his performances throughout the week it feels almost unfair, and football doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but if Potter is looking to truly assess the need for a new shot-stopper then Kepa needs to turn a corner, not have a good few games. To do that, the fine margins need to go his way and this time they didn’t.