Thomas Tuchel admits Kepa ‘deserves’ cup final start ahead of selection decision

Chelsea v Plymouth Argyle – Emirates FA Cup – Fourth Round – Stamford Bridge
(Image credit: Adam Davy)

Thomas Tuchel has conceded Kepa Arrizabalaga “absolutely deserves” to start the Carabao Cup final – but pledged to leave sentiment out of the decision.

Kepa has starred when called upon by the Blues this term, especially in the Club World Cup semi-final before Edouard Mendy returned from Senegal duty to take the gloves for the final.

Spain stopper Kepa has played in every Carabao Cup round so far this term, but Blues boss Tuchel still admitted the selection decision will prove his most testing.

Thomas Tuchel File Photo

Thomas Tuchel, pictured, has heaped praise on Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (Nick Potts/PA)

Africa Cup of Nations winner Mendy is Chelsea’s number one goalkeeper, but Kepa’s major improvements in confidence, positioning and performance have seen him shine this season.

“This is very easy to say: Kepa absolutely deserves to play and I also cannot get sentimental about it,” said Tuchel.

“I have to do what in the end is in my opinion the very best solution for the team.

“I know that this position is a very sensitive position. If Kepa was a player in the other 10 positions we would not have these discussions, we would just be full of praise, and he would feel that praise in minutes on the pitch.

“So now he is in this one position where you don’t make a lot of changes.

“But still he would absolutely deserve it and at the same time I will not be sentimental about the position.”

Chelsea v Liverpool – Premier League – Stamford Bridge

Edouard Mendy, pictured, is Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper (Adam Davy/PA)

Kepa could complete his Stamford Bridge redemption by helping steer the Blues to League Cup victory on Sunday, after his 2019 substitution mix-up.

The former Athletic Bilbao stopper refused to be replaced by Willy Caballero ahead of a penalty shoot-out at Wembley against Manchester City.

Boss Maurizio Sarri thought Kepa was injured but the Blues’ starting goalkeeper was trying to signal to the bench that he simply had cramp.

That miscommunication saw Wembley play host to fraught scenes of Kepa gesticulating to the bench, Caballero stripped off and ready to come on – and even Sarri storming off towards the tunnel.

The Blues went on to lose that shoot-out 4-3 and some damage doubtless lingered as a result of Kepa staying on the field.

The highly-respected keeper has steadily rebuilt his Chelsea standing since then, however, pressing through a difficult spell under Frank Lampard to take a more integral role under Tuchel.

While Mendy remains the clear number one, Tuchel and Chelsea view Kepa of genuine first-choice ability and selection calls are becoming tighter and tighter.

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“We will take the decision late; because there’s a reason why people ask who will start,” said Tuchel.

“In the last competition it was very short, Kepa played in the Club World Cup, Kepa played the semi-final and got us to the final.

“And then we took the decision for Edou coming back from the Africa Cup of Nations, and then it’s a pretty similar situation now.

“So this will be the very last decision we will take after training, like always.

“Because there’s no need to take the decision now when we have one more training ahead.

“Kepa did fantastic in the period where we had to be without Edou, and so it’s an uncomfortable and very comfortable situation at the same time.”

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