Legendary Chelsea goalkeeper and now technical director Petr Cech has explained the “hard decision” behind Thomas Tuchel ’s move to drop Kepa Arrizabalaga for the final of the Club World Cup.
Kepa had become the Blues’ starter in goal while Edouard Mendy was away at the Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament he helped Senegal to win for the first time in their history.
The Spaniard has impressed during that spell, starting all eight games that Tuchel has played while Mendy has been turning out for the Lions of Teranga in Cameroon.
He had seemingly revitalised his career, keeping five clean sheets in his spell as Chelsea ’s number one, having previously had little chance of dislodging Mendy, who had cemented his place in Tuchel’s starting line-up.
Kepa had starred in Chelsea’s narrow win over Al Hilal in the semi-final of the Club World Cup, saving all three shots he had to face.
His performance helped book the Blues’ place in Saturday’s final, where they came up against Brazilian side Palmerias.
With Kepa having performed so well in Mendy’s absence, it appeared that he was in line to once again start in goal.
That situation appeared especially likely to play out considering Mendy was only able to rejoin the Chelsea squad two days before the final.
Unfortunately for Kepa though, Tuchel opted to immediately restore the Senegal international to his line-up.
That saw the Spaniard drop to the bench, forced to watch on from the sidelines as Mendy helped the Blues to win their first Club World Cup title.
Cech admitted that the decision to drop Kepa was a harsh one, but explained that Mendy’s status as the first-choice keeper left little other option.
“We have top goalkeepers, they both perform on the top level this season,” Chelsea’s technical director told Channel 4.
“It makes it hard. The same with the other players, 25 member squad but can only field 11 players.
“We chose to go with Edou because he’s our number one goalkeeper, he came over here, trained and is fit. I think it’s a hard decision to make but he’s our number one, he plays.”
With little chance of taking Mendy’s place, Kepa looks increasingly likely to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer.
But he did see Mendy make two saves to help Chelsea win the final, with Kai Havertz scoring a penalty late in extra-time to win the game.
Palmerias had proved to be tougher opposition than expected, with Raphael Veiga equalising for the Brazilians after Romelu Lukaku had put Tuchel’s men ahead.
Havertz’s spot-kick was enough to secure the win, which also means that the Blues have now picked up every trophy possible under owner Roman Abramovich.
“You need luck to score late on, but we were relentless, and we did not stop trying,” he told Channel 4.
“We did not give in. We had the lead, then lost it, but never stopped. It was deserved, but it’s also lucky when you score so late.
“The penalty [from Havertz] did not look nervous but for sure he was. You cannot not be nervous in this situation. We trusted the statistics, and I’m happy for him.”