Chelsea face a crucial run of games to save their season and Kepa is the man between the sticks... how the Spaniard has been rejuvenated by Thomas Tuchel as he steps in for AFCON-bound Edouard Mendy

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Kepa Arrizabalaga's task over the next few weeks is simple: take Chelsea into the Carabao Cup final, keep out runaway leaders Manchester City and help beat Tottenham in a Premier League London derby. No pressure then. 

The thought of the much-maligned Spanish goalkeeper playing such a crucial role in Chelsea's season would have struck fear into the hearts of Blues supporters around 18 months ago. 

Kepa had the worst goalkeeping save percentage out of all the Premier League's regular shot stoppers in the 2019-20 season. Mistakes with both his hands and feet were common and he was well on the way to becoming a £72million flop. 

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa (right) is set to be the club's first-choice shot stopper for a few weeks

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa (right) is set to be the club's first-choice shot stopper for a few weeks

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa (right) is set to be the club's first-choice shot stopper for a few weeks

Kepa (right) is playing while first-choice Edouard Mendy (left) is at the Africa Cup of Nations

Kepa (right) is playing while first-choice Edouard Mendy (left) is at the Africa Cup of Nations

But now there is no alternative. With Chelsea first-choice goalkeeper Edouard Mendy now heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations until January 18 at least, Kepa has his No 1 shirt back - but there is reason for Thomas Tuchel to be pleased about this. 

Ever since Chelsea's German manager came into the club, Kepa has been given a baptism of fire at Stamford Bridge - even though he has remained behind Mendy in the regular goalkeeper pecking order. 

Make no mistake, Mendy deserves to be the No 1 goalkeeper at Chelsea. The Senegalese shot stopper has saved the Blues in crucial moments, most notably a man-of-the-match display away at Brentford and more stops in last week's draw with Liverpool. 

The Spaniard has been a penalty shootout hero three times this season, and twice in the cup

The Spaniard has been a penalty shootout hero three times this season, and twice in the cup

Kepa (left) also made crucial stops in Chelsea's Carabao Cup quarter-final win at Brentford

Kepa (left) also made crucial stops in Chelsea's Carabao Cup quarter-final win at Brentford

But Kepa has also played his part this season. In fact, ahead of Chelsea's Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg against Tottenham on Wednesday night, the Spaniard has undergone a pivotal role in getting the Blues to the last four. 

The Spaniard was the penalty shootout hero in rounds three and four for the Blues, saving spot-kicks in victories over Aston Villa and Southampton, before making crucial stops in the quarter-final victory over Brentford, including a point-blank header from Yoane Wissa.  

Add that to his UEFA Super Cup shootout heroics over the summer against Villarreal and a clean sheet in his only Premier League outing so far this season - coincidentally away at Spurs - and there is very little Kepa has done wrong this term. 

KEPA'S IMPROVEMENT 

2019-20 season

Overall save percentage: 58.3% 

League save %: 54.5% (21st in league)

League Shots on target faced: 99

Premier League Saves: 55  

8.9 extra goals conceded

2021-22 season

Overall games: 5

Shots on target faced: 25

Saves made: 20

Overall save percentage: 80% 

Goals prevented: 6.1

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The statistics back this up as well. Kepa's save percentage is higher than it has ever been at Stamford Bridge, while the Expected Goals Saved ratio is now positive rather than negative.   

There are multiple reasons why Kepa has improved massively but the sacking of Frank Lampard and Tuchel's introduction is central to his revival. 

When Lampard was in charge, reports emerged that Kepa's poor form stemmed from the former Blues boss choosing not to give him tactical instructions, especially with regards to playing out from the back.

Kepa denied that he had any personal issues with Lampard, but did confirm last year that he is now 'no longer afraid' with Tuchel in charge.

'Three months ago things were difficult,' he said last February. 'It has been a complicated year for a number of reasons.  

'I did not have any problems with Lampard. It's true that I did not give the best version of myself or play as I would have wanted. But we never had any issue.

'I feel good after my period of inactivity. I hope to play more and I am no longer afraid and want to play an important part for Chelsea.'

Other reasons for Kepa's progression is a fixed back three system for him to work with, along with a strong goalkeeping group at Chelsea which includes Mendy and Marcus Bettinelli.

But Tuchel's continued faith in Kepa, demonstrated by the fact he took him off the bench in the final minutes of extra-time in last summer's UEFA Super Cup for the shootout, means the Spaniard is more confident. 

'I am super impressed with Kepa,' Tuchel said after the Carabao Cup quarter-final win over Brentford in December.  

Kepa (right) made many errors during his stint as No 1 under former boss Frank Lampard

Kepa (right) made many errors during his stint as No 1 under former boss Frank Lampard

The continued faith from Thomas Tuchel (left) has been crucial to Kepa's (right) improvement

The continued faith from Thomas Tuchel (left) has been crucial to Kepa's (right) improvement

'It is not a surprise anymore because he is in the state of mind as a person, a character and a sportsman where he just delivers for us, because he does what he does best.

'This is what he shows every day in training and this is why he gets the reward. I am absolutely sure that this is the reason why he has these kinds of performances.

'I am super happy, we need him in this kind of shape. The goalkeepers are a strong group and Kepa is a big part of it.' 

With Tuchel currently dealing with Romelu Lukaku's outburst about leaving the club last week, Kepa's story just goes to show that the German boss does allow second chances.

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