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Did Chelsea make a mistake buying Kepa? What are the alternatives going forward?

Kepa has never shown that he can cut it at the top…

All stats were taken from https://fbref.com/en/ which is a great sight for stats from various leagues around the world.  

I would like to start this by saying I this is purely an analysis, many players join big clubs and can’t cut it Chelsea should know when it comes to strikers that you can expect something and get the complete opposite. I have been a supporter of Kepa through much of the season but yesterday was an eye opener. I wouldn’t say Kepa was largely at fault for most of the goals but there was no urgency from him, he seemed like he was doing his best impression of the mannequin challenge. Most goalkeeper will still attempt to dive even if they will miss and the fact that he didn’t move at all was alarming. The corner towards the end where he was a virtual spectator was particularly alarming. I wanted to see why Kepa has been so poor, is it a defensive issue or did we just buy a goalkeeper who can’t save. 

Essentials – 

The essentials of any goalkeeper is that they have to know how to keep the ball out of the net as in save shots etc. Last season Kepa’s goals against per 90 was 1.08 4th best in the league. Though when it came to save percentage where the likes of Ederson, Alisson, and Lloris stayed in the top 3 Kepa plummeted to 15th in the table with a save percentage of .675. 117 shots on target out of which 78 were saved. 

The situation got no better for Kepa this season as the goals against per 90 went up to 1.42 which sits 12th in the table. That coupled with Kepa’s save percentage meant that he dropped even further in that category as he currently sits 20th with a save percentage of .545. Kepa has faced less shots this season 99 but only saved 55. 

I decided to see if Kepa’s showed any exceptional promise in his seasons at Bilbao and the answer I got was not really. In the 17/18 season Kepa was 11th in goals against per 90 with a rate of 1.43. Kepa was 13th in save percentage with a rate of .689 with a 135 shots on target and saving 96 of them. In context Oblak took 126 shots and saved a 106. Bilbao weren’t great that season finishing 16th in La Liga. 

In the 16/17 season Kepa really had his breakout season for Bilbao playing 23 games. Bilbao themselves finished in 7th in the table, which shows in Kepa’s goal against per 90 as he sits 4th in the table at 0.98. The save percentage though is what matters and Kepa came in 19th facing just 67 shots but saving only 45 with a percentage of .672.

What I understand from these stats is that Kepa while showing promise and being only 24 hasn’t ever performed well when it comes to the basics. The save percentage is poor when he faces several shots and when he faces fewer shots. The defence being poor does have an impact on a goalkeepers stats but whether Kepa faces more or less shots he still seems to have a poor save percentage. In my view Sarri needed a goalkeeper who was good with his feet and Kepa is that, if one looks at his passing statistics and overall play from the back he is up there with Alisson and Ederson. Although when it comes to actually making the saves he falls well short. The price tag gets thrown around but it’s not his fault that he cost that much, the release clause was put on him by Bilbao. It’s Chelsea who had no plan at the time and under pressure had to buy a goalkeeper. The fact remains that Chelsea clearly did no extensive scouting on him. 

Comparison to other goalkeepers –

Petr Cech

Cech never dropped below a .70 save percentage and we went through some tough seasons during the first half of the last decade. We won the league in 9/10 with Cech coming in 9th with a save percentage of .742 saving 69 of 93 shots. 10/11 was a better year for Cech as he came in 3rd with a save percentage of .777 saving 115 of 148 shots. Everyone remembers the 11/12 season and how crucial Cech was in our biggest achievement but Cech also did well overall sitting 7th with a percentage of .721 saving 101 of 140 shots. 12/13 saw the emergence of De Gea in the Premier League but Cech still through his weight around with a save percentage of .766 saving 116 of 154 shots and sitting 2nd. 13/14 was Cech’s final full season at Chelsea with Mourinho returning to the club and he played great once again having a save percentage of .767 sitting 2nd having saved 79 of a 103 shots. Cech is one of the greatest goalkeepers in Premier League history but that is what Kepa is having to compete it and currently he is no where near that level. Throughout that time Cech did have a more consistent and solid defence in front of him but the save is ultimately down to the goalkeeper.

Thibaut Courtois 

For Courtois I thought we should start with his loan spell at Atletico Madrid, he was loaned out to the Spanish side for 3 years beginning with the 11/12 season. The then 19 year old Courtois made 37 appearances for Atletico finishing 19th in save percentage having saved 94 of 135 shots. That season Atletico finished 5th in the league it also happened to be the season Mourinho won the La Liga title with a 100 points. Not bad for a debut season in a tough league. 12/13 saw Simeone in his 2nd season in charge as Atletico finished a respectable 3rd with Courtois rocketing to the top of the save percentage at .758 saving 91 of a 120 shots. 13/14 was Courtois final season loan at Atletico and they managed to win the title with Courtois having a save percentage of .750 making 72 saves from 96 shots sitting 3rd. Kepa would return to Chelsea the following season and under Mourinho he would win his first Premier League title with a save percentage of .709 making 73 saves from 103 shots this was also the 7th best save percentage. 15/16 was a calamitous season for Chelsea one in which we finished 10th but Courtois had a decent enough season with a save percentage of .688 making 64 saves from 93 shots which put him 9th in the ranking. Cech was still around at Arsenal as well reaching 2nd save percentage with .754. 16/17 was a title winning season as Courtois sat 7th in save percentage with .737 while Cech topped the table with .813 saving 113 of 150 shots. Courtois last season at Chelsea also coincided with a poor second season under Conte as Courtois managed a save percentage of .689 as he ranked 8th. 

Courtois consistently put in good performances although his final season at Chelsea did coincide with him having his legs open for some very poor goals. Still the promise was there since the Atletico days and this season at Real Madrid he has been the best goalkeeper in the league as they won the title although last season he was far from great and was being made fun off at after literally every game. Last season does seem like an outlier in the larger scheme of things for Courtois. 

Andre Onana

One goalkeeper heavily rumoured to be a potential replacement for Kepa if the Spaniard does leave this summer is Andre Onana from Ajax. Ajax have had some very good seasons recently and Onana has been crucial to their success both domestically and in Europe. 

Onana is the same age as Kepa both are 24 year olds and basically babies in terms of goalkeeping. Onana’s first season as the Ajax goalkeeper came in 16/17 as he finished 3rd in save percentages with a percentage of .784 making 68 saves from 88 shots. 17/18 saw a similar season where he again finished 3rd in the league in terms of save percentages with .769 making 98 saves from 130 shots. This season Onana only played 24 games before the lockdown in which he had a save percentage of .725. The Eredivise might not be the most competitive league but when it comes to the actual basic stat of saving goals it doesn’t really matter where you are playing. Onana has put up promising stats for the last four seasons and seems like a good option. Playing out from the back though would be something that Onana would need to improve in as sweeper keepers are always susceptible to a misplaced pass. 

Jan Oblak

Oblak is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world he plays for Atletico Madrid and has been their goalkeeper since the 15/16 season. Atletico have a pedigree of producing world class goalkeepers with De Gea being followed by Courtois and then Moya came in who didn’t really fill the Beglian’s void. Atletico went and got Oblak who has reached world class levels. 

Atletico are a solid defensive unit and Oblak wouldn’t really need to face many shots but his save percentages from pretty small numbers is outrageous. In his debut season he came in 1st with a save percentage of .818 making 81 saves from 99 shots. The following season in 16/17 Oblak came in 2nd with a .80 save percentages making 69 saves from 90 shots. 17/18 Oblak bounced back from dropping off as he came in 1st with a save percentage of .833 making 106 saves from 126 shots. 18/19 Oblak 1st again with a percentage of .821 with 103 saves from 123 shots. This season Atletico didn’t have the greatest starts and they clawed their way back into 3rd as Oblak finished 2nd behind Courtois with a save percentage of .771 making 82 saves from 105 shots. Oblak is the golden standard he has a 112 million Euro release clause but Chelsea have been rumoured to be interested in him. Oblak would bring the aura of confidence back into the Chelsea back line and that reliability would return as well. Oblak is still only 26 as well and that is still 4 years from when goalkeeper reach their peak. A premium to pay for the best in the world. 

A big of a deep dive on save percentages but I felt that is the biggest factor people hold against Kepa and so it might be interesting to look at. Kepa didn’t ask to be the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and Chelsea probably made a snap decision when buying him. Fact is that at 24 Kepa still has many years to go in terms of his career but do Chelsea have the time to keep faith him in? Probably not. Chelsea have a vision for the future but the fact that things have been so bad at the back this season might mean that Kepa could be moved on if some team puts faith him in. The potential is there and with a solid defence in front of him he could become a very good goalkeeper Chelsea though might not have that patience. The summer will be interesting, I hold nothing against Kepa I still think he had some great moments at Chelsea up till now and his tenure at the club has coincided with one of worst defences in our history, but he has not painted himself in great colours either. 

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