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The Kepa Arrizabalaga resurgence: his story of redemption

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It was not too long ago that Kepa Arrizabalaga felt like his Chelsea career was all but over. After a tumultuous season with the Blues under Frank Lampard that saw them concede 54 goals in the league, the Spaniard was displaced in goal by Édouard Mendy. The most expensive goalkeeper in the world who joined the club from Athletic Bilbao in the summer of 2018 for a fee of £72m was suddenly deputy to his Senegalese teammate and used only for cup competitions – but when Youri Tielemans gloriously scored past him in the 2021 FA Cup final, it seemed like his time in West London was drawing to an end.

Amidst a total loss of confidence in him amongst the Chelsea faithful as well as speculation in the summer about Lazio wanting to take him away on loan, it felt like the chance to redeem his exorbitant price tag would never come. However, the beautiful game does offer a chance at redemption – and it did when Kepa came on for Mendy in the closing minutes of the Super Cup final against Villarreal and dug out a couple of saves in the shoot-out to win it for the Blues. When Kepa denied Raúl Albiol from the spot, it was not only a beautiful moment of redemption – it was a defining moment in his Chelsea career.

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The picture of the Spaniard being hounded by his teammates was a defining one in his career at the club, one that meant that Chelsea can call upon their second-choice to perform whenever required. And the Blues knew that they would need a capable deputy to step up when Mendy would have to leave Cobham mid-way through the season to represent Senegal in the African Cup of Nations, to sustain their challenge in multiple cup competitions as well as in the league. Kepa would have to exorcise the demons from his past to step up in the reliable Mendy’s absence, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that he did.

His shoot-out heroics in the Super Cup final foreshadowed more saves from the spot in the season to follow, as the Spaniard came up clutch in back-to-back rounds of the Carabao Cup this season. Kepa was a picture of belief and confidence when he pulled off multiple saves from the spot against Aston Villa and Southampton in the third and fourth rounds of the Carabao Cup, besides stepping up in Mendy’s absence through injury against Tottenham Hotspur in the league to keep a clean sheet. But the best spell of form that he has had at Chelsea was yet to come – he had saved it for a time when the club needed it the most.

After Mendy left for international duty in early January, Chelsea faced a barrage of cup games as well as the odd Premier League outing – and Kepa’s first task was to be in goal for the Carabao Cup semi-finals against Spurs. Kepa passed his first test with flying colours as he kept clean sheets in both legs, a couple of confident outings including one where he showed great presence of mind to trap Harry Kane offside intentionally. When Chelsea travelled to the Etihad to face Manchester City, Kepa held his own with a one-on-one save to deny Jack Grealish – despite conceding from a world-class Kevin de Bruyne strike.

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Although Chelsea lost the outing to the champions, Kepa did his best to restrict the score line to only 1-0 – and followed it up with another clean sheet in a win against Spurs, this time in the league. His next task came in a home game against Plymouth Argyle in the fourth round of the FA Cup, one where he came up clutch from the spot once again in extra time to help his club progress to the next round. It was another important penalty save from the man who dethroned the legendary Petr Cech as the Chelsea goalkeeper with the most number of penalty saves earlier this season, and his redemption arc was set to continue.

Chelsea travelled to the United Arab Emirates earlier this month to take part in the FIFA Club World Cup, to win the last piece of silverware left for the club to win every available trophy in club football – as well as to redeem their loss in the final a decade ago. While Romelu Lukaku sent the Blues ahead in the first half of the semi-final against Al Hilal, it took a second half masterclass by Kepa to maintain the score and send the Blues to the final. Kepa came up with three brilliant saves – including one where he flew at full stretch to deny Mohammed Kanoo – and was named Man of the Match for his inspiring performance.

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The display underlined the kind of form that the 27-year-old Chelsea goalkeeper has found himself in. Having played 13 games this season, Kepa has only conceded eight goals – and has made 39 saves from the total of 47 shots on target that he has faced in all competitions. A solid save percentage of 82.97% is encouraging for the custodian who had the worst save percentage of any starting goalkeeper in the Premier League with 54.50% only two seasons ago, and only goes to show how his form, like many of his teammates, has seen major improvement since the appointment of Thomas Tuchel in January last year.

When compared to goalkeepers in the top five European leagues over the past year in all competitions, Kepa averages a clean sheet in every two games – ranking him in the 98th percentile. However, while his clean sheet record can be attributed to the Blues’ usually water-tight defense, Kepa’s improvement can be properly analyzed by his Post-Shot Expected Goals (PSxG) numbers. Since PSxG factors in the quality of the shot taken rather than just the quality of the opportunity (xG), a goalkeeper’s ability to make saves can be judged by the difference between their goals conceded and the PSxG of the chances they face.

Over the past 365 days in all competitions, Kepa averages 1.12 PSxG conceded per 90 while conceding 0.82 goals per game – meaning that his PSxG minus goals against per 90 is 0.30. The Chelsea goalkeeper’s PSxG minus GA numbers ranks him in the 98th percentile amongst goalkeepers in the top five European leagues, a sharp contrast from his PSxG and PSxG minus GA numbers per 90 in the ‘19/20 season which read 1.08 and -0.30 respectively – ranking him only in the 9th percentile. In simpler words, while he is now facing a better quality of shots, he is proving to live up to the task like never before.

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At the beginning of the season, the Spaniard’s article on The Players’ Tribune was a heart-warming read that focused on the hardships that he faced in the worst season of his footballing career. With his form undergoing an unprecedented slump, Kepa was subjected to death threats on his social media platforms and often felt burdened with a “responsibility” to live up to his world-record price tag – but even when his career in West London hung in the balance as he was first dropped in favour of Willy Caballero and then Mendy, Kepa showed great professionalism to hold on and wait for an opportunity to prove his ability.

As Chelsea lifted the Champions League trophy in Porto after defeating Manchester City, Kepa’s unbridled joy at the Estadio do Dragão was a sight to behold. Although Mendy had played the match, with Kepa on the bench, the deputy goalkeeper interpreted his joy on that night as a symbol of “how close we are as a team,” adding “the coaches deserve recognition for making every one of us feel important”. Kepa’s patience eventually paid off, as his displays this season have affirmed his knack of turning up on the big occasion, as it is courtesy of him that Chelsea are about to compete in two Cup finals this month.

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Édouard Mendy joined the travelling Chelsea contingent in Abu Dhabi on the eve of the Club World Cup semi-final after inspiring Senegal to success in the African Cup of Nations, but there is no doubt about the fact that he will not be able to simply walk into the line-up for the final against Palmeiras. It is a major testament to his deputy’s ability and performance that the FIFA Best Goalkeeper of the Year for 2021 will not instantly regain his spot in goal for the European champions, as Kepa has not only filled in during his absence – but also proven his argument on why he should be contesting with Mendy between the posts.

If Kepa does start in the final against Palmeiras on Saturday and Chelsea go on to win, it will be another piece of silverware that the Spaniard will have directly contributed to his team winning this season. The trophy will add to the Europa League success in his first season at the club, (where he was influential in the semi-final penalty shoot-out) the Champions League win last season and the Super Cup this season – strengthening the argument that not all of the money spent on him in 2018 has gone in vain. And if he does help Chelsea beat Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley later this month, Kepa will have completed his redemption arc in the final of a tournament where he infamously refused to be substituted in 2019, and prove his worth as the ultimate cup goalkeeper to cement a place in the club’s history books.












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Aurelien Tchouameni

Aurélien Tchouaméni agrees transfer terms with Liverpool but Reds face fight to seal deal

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Liverpool News: Aurélien Tchouaméni of France has agreed to terms with Liverpool after talks with the English club.

However, the highly-rated midfielder has claimed that he will take many days to finalise his decision after also agreeing in principle to the same deal with Real Madrid.

As a result, Liverpool is concerned about their chances of signing the Monaco midfielder. The club insiders feels that Real Madrid might be the preferred destination for the midfielder.

Liverpool appeared to be in control after a spirited pursuit of Tchouaméni. The midfielderhas eight caps for France and is regarded as a rising talent in his homeland.

Liverpool News: How is the saga unfolding?

Liverpool News: Aurélien Tchouaméni agrees transfer terms with Liverpool but Reds face fight to seal deal

READ MORE: Watch, Angel Di Maria gets emotional, receives a guard of honour in his last game for PSG

Following the collapse of their pursuit of PSG attacker Kylian Mbappe, Madrid have emerged as frontrunners. After being offered a lucrative new deal for over £1 million per week and a £100 million signing on fee, Mbappe chose to stay in Paris.

Madrid were unable to meet Mbappe’s expectations when they agreed to such a high price to bring him to the Bernabeu. However, that deal has fallen through now, they have the funds to dramatically enhance their offer.

After rejecting a rival offer from PSG, Tchouaméni is thought to be ‘almost certain’ to join the Spanish champions.

The midfielder is happy with Liverpool and its manager, Jurgen Klopp, and he wants to be a part of the club. According to sources in France, he has negotiated agreements with both teams and will decide between them by the end of the week.

After the Mbappe deal fell through, Madrid is now the frontrunner.

READ MORE: Watch, Pep Guardiola gets emotional at the touch line during the final whistle

Mbappe was the player that Real Madrid wanted badly. Los Blancos did everything in their power to bring the Frenchman but the deal fell through. This means that the Spanish giants now have the funds to go all out for signing the dynamic midfielder from Monaco.

Tchouaméni is said to be ‘nearly certain’ to join the Spanish champions after rejecting a rival offer from PSG.

The midfielder is happy with the Reds manager and the entire team. The midfielder is considering Liverpool as he sees the club as a great option. And sources in France stated that he had agreed terms with both clubs. He will inform them about his decision before the end of the week.

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Given Madrid’s increased interest, Liverpool is willing to look elsewhere. Klopp is looking to strengthen his defensive midfield alternatives.





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Premier LEague

Fulham looking to sign Neco Williams in a permanent deal

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Neco Williams have returned to Anfield, after spending a successful short loan spell at the Craven Cottage.

In the 4 months that he spent there, the Welsh right back grew popular among the fans, and the teammates alike. Although Silva’s men already had been blowing apart teams in the Championship, the Liverpool loanee just added to the firepower. How well he settled with his new teammates, it is something to gloat about if you are a Red yourself.

We have already seen the likes of Jurgen Klopp, raining praises for his 21-year-old “backup” fullback. But this time it was Silva who was mesmerized by the fullback’s ability to control the right channel- be it for nailing down the passes, or stopping the opposition’s runners to making forward moves.

Meanwhile, the young boy has done himself enough proud and deserves all the plaudits. In 14 games for the Cottagers, Williams has assisted 2 goals and has scored twice as well. He has been one of the key players for Silva’s side, in their Championship winning campaign.

What is being reported?

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According to the multiple reports, it is being reported that the West Londoners are impressed with the Welshman, and they want to lure the player for a move away from Anfield. There are a few main reasons surrounding the whole scenario.

Firstly, given how well Neco Williams has faired it will be a crime for him to be benched, or to be played as a second to Trent. But Liverpool, surely, have got their hands tied there- seeing Trent’s rise across the whole of Europe. Next reason is another one pushing Neco away, the Reds are targeting the Scottish wonder boy as a backup to Trent. Calvin Ramsay, from Aberdeen, has been heavily linked with the Reds over the past few weeks- making it ever so clear in the Neco William saga.

Verdict

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From Liverpool’s point of view, as well as from Neco’s perspective, it will be a good move. It will not be an easy goodbye, but one that will help both the parties going forward- given the Reds have also confirmed a move for Carvalho from the Cottagers.

Meanwhile Silva’s Fulham, in their bid to stay in the top flight, could strike a bargain for a player of Neco’s abilities and prowess. Last summer the Welshman was worth £10 million, according to the reports. So, the Whites would not have to overspend to make his move permanent.

Overall, it should be a good move – seeing Neco can finally get the game time, Fulham security in the form of a good right back, and Liverpool could get funds to lure players like Clavin Ramsay into the fore.












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Aston Villa

Boubacar Kamara completes Aston Villa transfer after snubbing interest from Premier League and La Liga clubs

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Premier League News: Aston Villa has signed Marseille midfielder Boubacar Kamara, beating out Premier League and La Liga clubs.

After stating he would not be signing an extension at the Stade Velodrome, the 22-year-old was available on a free transfer. United and Atletico Madrid had been connected with Kamara in the past. However, Steven Gerrard’s side have now confirmed that he has signed a five-year contract with Villa Park.

I am thrilled that we have been able to attract one of Europe’s most promising young talents,” Gerrard stated. We have a very clear plan to strengthen our squad, and Bouba is a key component of that.”

Kamara was just called up to the French national squad for the first time. He claimed that working with the renowned former Liverpool captain was an easy option.

Premier League News: What did Kamara say?

Premier League News: Boubacar Kamara completes Aston Villa transfer after snubbing interest from Premier League and La Liga clubs

READ MORE: Watch, Pep Guardiola gets emotional at the touch line during the final whistle

“I knew Aston Villa was for me after meeting with Steven, Christian, and Johan in my home. Their ambition and drive to succeed are similar to me. He told the club’s official website, “I can’t wait for pre-season to start.”

Kamara joins Philippe Coutinho, who has already signed for the ambitious Midlands club. The club is trying to challenge for European spots next season after flirting with relegation this season.

Any fears about sliding into the Championship were swiftly dispelled when Gerrard arrived. The former Rangers manager led them to a comfortable 14th place finish.

United need a Central Defensive Midfielder

READ MORE: Watch, Angel Di Maria gets emotional, receives a guard of honour in his last game for PSG

United’s need for a defensive centre midfielder is obvious, with the impending departures of Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba further depleting an already thin position.

Ralf Rangnick’s terrible spell as interim manager came to an end with a defeat at Crystal Palace on the penultimate day, and he told new manager Erik ten Hag that he will need to buy players to restore harmony at a fractured Old Trafford.

Ten Hag will be officially introduced as United’s new manager on Sunday, and Rangnick has instructed him exactly who he has to sign in his first window in charge.

What did Rangnick say?

“There is a problem with team spirit. “I believe this team might benefit from more cohesion and unity on the field,” the German explained.

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“It’s also critical that when we think about new players – when the board and the manager think about new players – that we make sure they’re not only guys with the ability to strengthen the squad, but also players who will invest in the team spirit.”





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