The question on many Chelsea fans’ lips currently surrounds Edouard Mendy, AFCON and what on earth happens in his absence.
In truth, his departure for the tournament in January will sting. He is comfortably among the top goalkeepers in the Premier League – and European football as a whole – and will undoubtedly be missed.
As the African Cup of Nations draws nearer, Chelsea will be without their Senegalese goalkeeper for at least two Premier League matches. It was timely then for Kepa Arrizabalaga to demonstrate that he can be called upon next month in his teammates’ absence with an assured showing at Brentford on Wednesday night.
Kepa looked like someone who can fill that void seamlessly and did not look like the usual nervous presence between the posts he has proven on too many occasions for Chelsea.
Kepa was voted man of the match for his role in the 2-0 Carabao Cup quarter-final win at the Brentford Community Stadium and the travelling Chelsea fanbase will have appreciated how he dealt with all problems thrown at him by the hosts.
He made three crucial saves from inside the box on the night and was first to act when danger arose in his technical area. I know it is the kind of intangible you cannot truly measure but a goalkeeper’s best attribute is confidence. Right now, Kepa appears to have heaps of it.
Standing behind an unrecognisable backline is not as easy as it seems either. Having only featured in five matches all season for the Blues, opportunities to build up confidence have been scarce. But Tuchel deserves credit for bringing him in from the cold to give him a chance to stake a claim. And that he did.
I often praise the German manager for his man-management. There is no denying that this team’s confidence has increased exponentially since his arrival and it has affected the players’ mindsets.
The desire to want to continuously win and the disappointment in their faces when leaving the stadium with only one point are palpable. Tuchel has managed to build this trait around the entire camp, including the fringe players – including Kepa.
The dreaded scenario of Mendy heading off to AFCON is drawing nearer but where Chelsea fans had previously feared his departure to represent his nation before, it is now becoming a more palatable situation in light of Kepa’s recovery.
We should be excited as a fanbase for Mendy to potentially lift that all-important trophy for his country because success at any level will breed a desire for more and he has already proven how crucial he can be to the team’s success at club level.
His defence will be left in the increasingly dependable hands of Kepa and Tuchel’s smart man-management has ensured he will not be ready to seize his opportunity. Mendy may return to find a credible competitor for his position as undisputed Chelsea No.1.