Chelsea’s £94m duo that is destined not to last as Thomas Tuchel set for Club World Cup decision

At 23 years old, Edouard Mendy was just finding his way back into football as Marseille’s fourth choice goalkeeper, having registered as unemployed the previous year.

At 23, Kepa Arrizabalaga became the most expensive goalkeeper ever when Chelsea signed him from Athletic Bilbao for £71.6 million.

At the weekend, they both saw success saving from the penalty spot.

While Mendy helped Senegal to their first Africa Cup of Nations title with a penalty shootout win over Egypt, Kepa marshalled Chelsea’s goal against Plymouth and denied Ryan Hardie a very late equaliser at Stamford Bridge.

The keepers have taken very different journeys to their success, but the duo have claimed Champions League and UEFA Super Cup honours in the last 12 months.

Mendy has been a revelation to many since joining the Blues in 2020, and became the first goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in both the AFCON and Champions League finals on his way to be named the tournament’s best goalkeeper, in addition to having won the FIFA Best Goalkeeper award.

Kepa, on the other hand, struggled to live up to his price tag. His first season saw a Europa League win and some fantastic penalty saves, but is best remembered for the dramatic afternoon where he refused to be substituted in the Carabao Cup Final.

His form tailed off the next term as Frank Lampard replaced Maurizio Sarri and the Spaniard’s was eventually dropped in favour of Willy Caballero in 2019/20. High profile mistakes when he did earn opportunities, including against Liverpool at the start of the 2020/21 season, saw Mendy signed as a priority.

That signing has perhaps been the making of the former Bilbao glovesman, who has developed somewhat of a mystique since his Super Cup heroics.

There’s no doubting Mendy is Thomas Tuchel’s No.1, but that night in August against Villarreal showed how good the relationship is within the squad.

The Senegal goalkeeper has proved himself an almost unparalleled shot stopper during his time at Stamford Bridge and has barely put a foot wrong on his way to 37 clean sheets in 70 appearances for Chelsea, 26 of those under Tuchel.

Against the Yellow Submarine he was faultless, but was sacrificed as the game went to penalties – Kepa’s speciality. The substitute goalkeeper made two saves to enhance his reputation, and backed up that display with more shootout saves against Aston Villa and Southampton in the Carabao Cup.

Kepa has made more shootout saves that any other Chelsea keeper, but in the shadow of Mendy he has found his own confidence and produced solid performances as the Blues number two.

Following the win over Plymouth, Arno Michels said: “It’s not only about the penalty save but it’s also about the performance. It was a very good performance.

“In the last matches, I’ve felt him very reliable in his game. His strength is to save penalties, he’s shown it a few times now: in the Carabao Cup twice, against Villarreal, and even In training, it’s hard to beat him.

“In penalty shootouts, he has the ability to read the mind of what the player is going to do. We are very happy with Kepa and he deserves this trust because he is a fantastic guy.

“To work with him for one year, it is hard for him because Edou [Mendy] is playing very good, but Kepa is constantly doing very good work in training, reliable work. He is friendly and an amazing guy. So I am very happy for him he could save us from a penalty shootout.”

It’s rare to have two goalkeepers of such a calibre at the same time. Kepa is more than an understudy, as he’s proved during Mendy’s absence in January.

The former Reims star is set to join Chelsea’s Club World Cup squad this week and it is not unthinkable that both players will receive minutes in the competition.

Kepa is likely to start on Wednesday, with Mendy not yet in Abu Dhabi, and will hope to add to the 11 clean sheets he has recorded in just 20 appearances under Tuchel.

While the Blues have had their struggles in attacking cohesion, there’s been reassuring stability between the posts.

Not many teams have the luxury of having a second-choice goalkeeper that was signed for a record fee, though it must be said Chelsea landed plenty of value when they spent £22million on Mendy.

Kepa has played an important role this season already, but it’s far from guaranteed to continue. In the last two transfer windows the Spaniard has been linked with reconnecting with Maurizio Sarri at Lazio.

His talents won’t go unnoticed, though how much of that initial fee Chelsea hope to recoup will go a long way to deciding any deal. His performances are beginning to suggest he is worth a starting role somewhere, however.

Kepa has enjoyed a renaissance since the arrivals of Mendy and Tuchel, and it’s an area of depth Chelsea have been able to rely upon in the opening half of the season. It’s a shame it’s unlikely to last too much longer.

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