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Kepa & Lampard: Why can't Chelsea's manager see what Spanish coaches have?

COMMENT: Kepa Arrizabalaga and Frank Lampard. Just what is the Chelsea manager missing that has been so obvious to his peers in Spain...?

If David de Gea was available from Manchester United - on a free - and in current form, Lampard would take him, wouldn't he? He'd find a way of shifting Kepa out of the club and replacing him with his countryman.

Yet in Spain, the opposite has occurred over the past 12 months. For many, including current La Roja coach Luis Enrique and predecessor Robert Moreno, Kepa is now the equal - if not the superior - of the two keepers. And at 25, still has his best years ahead of him.

But where Kepa knows he can count on the support of not only Enrique and his staff, but also Jose Francisco Molina, the federation's sporting director, within Chelsea it's the opposite.

From the little sighs of disappointment from his manager, to the headlines of agents' chatter regarding a replacement being lined up, Kepa has been fighting an uphill battle trying to win over Lampard ever since his appointment.

Sometimes a face doesn't fit. And maybe it's as simple as that? Less than two seasons into a career. Not even 24 months. And Lampard is writing off Spain's current first-choice goalkeeper. A goalkeeper who would be Real Madrid's No1 - before Thibaut Courtois - if not for their coach Zinedine Zidane. And that on-off move from Athletic Bilbao in January 2018 had nothing to do with doubts over potential or ability. No. Zidane blocked the deal out of pure loyalty to his then No1 Keylor Navas.

So those within Spain's staff rate Kepa. Their counterparts at Real Madrid, including president Florentino Perez, feel the same. And of course, Athletic would love to take him back. But not Lampard...

Of course, De Gea endured similar problems during his first seasons at Old Trafford. The difference being, the only doubts were coming from those outside the club. Sir Alex Ferguson was never swayed. Nor was his staff. Eric Steele, Fergie's former keeper coach, famously took up Spanish language lessons to help De Gea settle in - rather than force the then 22 year-old to adjust to Carrington's demands.

De Gea's stumbles were expected. And excused. United knew what they had on their hands. Today, Enrique and Molina feel the same about Kepa. So why not Lampard?

This isn't about withdrawing Kepa from the frontline. The decision to do so this season, in isolation, was a good one. Young players need a breather. The chance to reassess when things aren't falling for them and start again. Even by his own admission, Kepa had struggled to maintain his consistency. Going from the modest ambitions of Athletic to the demands of Chelsea were always going to take some adjusting.

But the choice of Lampard was done in the backdrop of the manager publicly criticising Kepa - and speculation of him being replaced. Christophe Lollichon, Chelsea's long time keeper coach, admitting he wanted to see Alphonso Areola, of PSG, signed ahead of the Spaniard, hasn't helped matters.

Inside the dressing room, Kepa at least can count on support - and also some sober advice. Willy Caballero, having just signed a new 12-month extension, spoke to Spanish media last week about his fellow goalkeeper.

The Argentine sympathised, “Being the most expensive goalkeeper in recent years, he is attacked much more", before warning his teammate of the ruthless reality of their profession, "I know that the comments hurt him, but he is going to have to live with that because it is difficult to be in Chelsea's goal and having to do a good job every week".

But significantly, Caballero also had a critical word for those in front of them: "It seems to me that this season did not go as well (for Kepa), as it has for the rest of the defence, and that is why he is criticised."

And that observation is significant. Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Andreas Christensen: they've all been withdrawn by Lampard this season as form escaped them. But unlike with Kepa, there was never any public criticism to accompany it.

This is a mistake. An error based on short-term thinking - both from the manager and the club. But as it stands, Chelsea - driven by Lampard - are working on shifting Kepa out and replacing him. Valencia are already in touch. And they won't be alone. Spain's No1 will not be short of offers closer to the summer market opening.

Less than two years ago, Chelsea didn't blink when paying a world record €80m for a goalkeeper viewed as a 10-year investment. And between now and then, Kepa has seen off De Gea to establish himself as his country's No1.

Yet, at his club, under his manager, his face doesn't fit. What is Lampard missing that is so obvious to the more experienced - and successful - in Spain...?


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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