Thomas Tuchel insists Kepa Arrizabalaga is a safe pair of hands as Chelsea bid to end Tottenham’s Wembley hopes in the EFL Cup.
Kepa has been Chelsea’s preferred goalkeeper in the competition this season and has shone so far, but the biggest test awaits as Tuchel takes his side to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Chelsea hold a 2-0 lead from the first leg, but Tuchel promised there would be no complacency from his charges on Wednesday, warning that “anything can happen” in such a game.
What he is confident about is that Kepa has matured as a goalkeeper, after enduring rocky spells during his Blues career.
The Spaniard made three errors leading to goals in just 14 games last season, with only four goalkeepers across Europe’s top five competitions making more.
He only made two mistakes leading to a shot in 2019-20, but Chelsea still felt compelled to find a replacement ahead of last term, with Edouard Mendy coming in to provide a more reassuring presence behind the defence.
After a fine maiden campaign at Stamford Bridge, Mendy remains the Premier League first pick, but Kepa has been mostly exemplary when given a chance.
“I never experienced Kepa nervous, not one single day,” said Tuchel. “The good thing is, it was a very genuine trust everybody had in Kepa once we let him play.
“He was very calm, very focused. I had the feeling he does not need to show in this 90 minutes [against Tottenham] that he is capable.
“We trust him and he is capable. We have him and are so happy to have him and that’s maybe the difference. We’re happy for him that he can show it.”
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 11, 2022
Since joining Chelsea in 2018, Kepa has played 116 games and made 10 errors in that time that have resulted in shots, three of which led to goals – last season’s unfortunate bumper crop.
In the same period, Everton’s Jordan Pickford has played 133 goals and made 20 errors leading to shots, of which 12 led to goals.
Liverpool’s Alisson has played 154 games, making nine errors leading to goals, while Manchester United’s David de Gea has featured 151 times and made 12 errors costing his side a goal, the joint-leader in that metric along with Pickford.
Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris has been responsible for mistakes that have cost Spurs six goals in his 138 games since the beginning of the 2018-19 season, with such evidence suggesting the common perception of Kepa as being calamity-prone might be unfair.
In the EFL Cup alone this season, Opta data shows Kepa has conceded five fewer goals than expected, based on expected goals on target (xGOT), which examines the quality of shots he has faced.
Ahead of Kepa, Tuchel was toying with throwing N’Golo Kante and Thiago Silva back into his matchday squad after recent brushes with COVID-19, although that hinged on them being given the all-clear by club medics at training later on Tuesday, with cardiac tests required.
“If we do it, it’s a gamble,” Tuchel said.
Wembley beckons, but Tuchel says it remains a distant prospect for Chelsea, despite their healthy lead.
“I would say we have no foot in the final,” he said. “We play another tough match in a tough stadium against a very good team and a top, top, top coach.”
Clearly Tuchel believes Spurs boss Antonio Conte will still fancy turning around the tie. Yet the fact Harry Kane has not scored in his last six encounters with Chelsea appears to bode well for Wednesday night’s visitors.
Tottenham will be looking to become just the second team to reach the EFL Cup final having lost a semi-final first leg by more than one goal, after Aston Villa did so against Tranmere Rovers in the 1993-94 campaign.
“We need to be prepared,” said Tuchel, “and it’s maybe better not to expect too much because nobody knows what’s going to happen. We had a very good match in the first leg, but it’s over. it’s the past.”