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Chelsea vs Liverpool: Can Mendy succeed where Kepa failed?

The Spaniard’s last two games vs the Reds prompted the arrival of the Senegal star…but will the Blues’ current number one come up trumps at Anfield?

When Chelsea thought their goalkeeping situation couldn’t get worse after their 5-3 defeat by Liverpool at Anfield at the backend of last season, there was further reason to worry after both sides faced off earlier this season.

One incident on the night of the Reds’ coronation summed up Kepa Arrizabalaga’s troubles in West London:  the Spaniard was strangely rooted to his line following Andrew Robertson’s 92nd-minute free-kick into the box when the smart move was to rush out to claim the ball.

Given the absence of fans, the vociferous ‘Kepaaa!’ shouts from some Chelsea players in the penalty area at the time was striking. A low-on-confidence goalkeeper was too petrified to claim a cross into his zone and was quite fortunate Virgil van Dijk didn’t score Liverpool’s sixth after connecting at the back post.

Having lost faith in the former Athletic Club shot-stopper, Frank Lampard dropped the 26-year-old for their all-important final day clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge with Champions League qualification on the line. The Blues won that game 2-0 and Willy Caballero continued in goal in the FA Cup final defeat by Arsenal and CL round of 16 second-leg thrashing by Bayern Munich.

Despite rife rumours over his immediate future, Kepa was restored for the start of this campaign with other positions prioritised in the summer. However, allowing a tame Leandro Trossard effort to creep underneath him resurrected doubts about the sport’s most expensive goalkeeper.

Still, Lampard kept faith in the goalie until another clanger in their 2-0 defeat by Liverpool at Stamford Bridge the following week sealed his fate under the ex-England international.

In fairness, Chelsea were already up against it after Andreas Christensen saw red for a professional foul in the first half, but what the West Londoners could ill-afford was another inexcusable error from their then-number one.

When Sadio Mane intercepted a Kepa pass into Jorginho in the 54th minute to send Jurgen Klopp’s team 2-0 up, Lampard had seen enough, and the purchase of Edouard Mendy from Stade Rennais was fast-tracked.

11 Premier League clean sheets later, the Senegal goalkeeper’s impact at Cobham has been solid if unspectacular and has notably outdone Kepa’s eight league shut-outs from 2019/20 with 12 games to play.

While the Blues’ cohesive defensive structure during the fine run under Lampard (early October to the start of December) and so far under Tuchel have protected the West African far better than the club legend’s tactics last term ever did, Mendy’s slightly superior all-round game will suffice at the Bridge for the time being.

He’d teased his decent shot-stopping and inclination to come off his line to claim crosses on his debut in the EFL Cup defeat by Tottenham Hotspur which got some of the club’s supporters on side, before following that up with an impressive performance to thwart Manchester United as it ended goalless at Old Trafford.

The 29-year-old made four saves at the Theatre of Dreams in October but the three to deny Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford (twice) particularly stood out. Even though Mendy made the same number of stops on Sunday, none of United’s efforts except Scott McTominay’s on the hour mark troubled the towering Senegalese for 90 minutes.

Returning to Anfield with a different man between the sticks could be to the West London side’s advantage, especially given the form of the Reds since December. A section of Chelsea supporters will remember both meetings between the sides last season in which Lampard’s men arguably looked better in London and on Merseyside, only to fall to 2-1 and 5-3 defeats respectively.

That loss on Liverpool’s big night in July perhaps hurt even more due to Lampard’s troops creating better chances.

They edged the expected goals 2.38-1.45 but somehow managed to concede five times to Klopp’s team. In West London, the Blues edged the xG 1.2-0.9.

The outgoing PL champions were outdoing expectations by a lot at the time, however, so Tuchel’s team won’t be facing a team in supreme goalscoring form or one with an impressive run at Anfield.

Losing to Burnley after 58 games is one thing, falling to defeats in their next three on home turf is worrying, and the Merseyside club will look to avoid a fifth straight home reverse when Chelsea visit.

While Mendy has shown he’s fallible between the sticks, his confidence, superior shot-stopping ability and the greater defensive strength of this Blues iteration mean there’s a possibility Tuchel’s side could extend Klopp’s Anfield malaise and hand the London club their first league victory on Merseyside in almost seven years.

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