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‘I had really tough moments. I had really good moments, but in the end, it’s like life. You have ups and downs’: Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga

On Sunday, the 28-year-old Spanish goal-keeper made a total of seven saves against Aston Villa in the side’s 2-0 win in Premier League, the most number of saves by a Chelsea goal-keeper since the 2017-18 season.

Kepa ArrizabalagaAston Villa's Danny Ings has his header saved by Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga . (Reuters)

From playing the traditional Cesta Punta to be Chelsea’s goalkeeper, Kepa has had quite a ride

As a young kid growing up in Basque in Spain, Chelsea goal-keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga would play a ball game called Cesta Punta, a sport played in Spain since the 17th century. The leisure time sport involves a curved basket strapped to the hands of the player hitting the Pelota, the ball, to the wall with speeds sometimes in excess of 200kmph. They catch the ball with the basket called as Chistera, and this was kepa’s favourite pastime before he started showing interest in football.

On Sunday, the 28-year-old Spanish goal-keeper made a total of seven saves against Aston Villa in the side’s 2-0 win in Premier League, the most number of saves by a Chelsea goal-keeper since the 2017-18 season.

“I like to watch a lot of sports, and I did a sport which is very typical in the Basque country, which is Cesta Punta. It’s like the Pelota, but Pelota is played just with the hand and Cesta Punta is with a big curved basket strapped to your hand. The ball is so hard and it’s a very quick sport. I practiced playing that for one or two years before I started playing football,” Kepa told Chelsea’s website in a chat earlier this year.

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Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, Davide Zappacosta, Gonzalo Higuain and Emerson Palmieri celebrate winning the penalty shootout. (REUTERS)

The Spanish goal-keeper was signed by the then Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri in 2018 from Atleico Bilbao on a club-record fee of 71.6 million pounds. He was the first choice goal-keeper for the Stamford Bridge side before Frank Lampard brought Senegal goal-keeper Edouard Mendy. Though Kepa has made a total of 125 appearances for Chelsea in his four years, most of his chances have come with Mendy missing out due to injury or on national duty. In 2019, the Spaniard was all over the news as he refused to be substituted by the substitute-goalkeeper Willy Caballero in the Carabao Cup final.

Kepa cleared the air about the incident sometime later. “First of all, I have to say it was misunderstood. In no moment was my intention to disobey, or anything like that with the boss. Just that it was misunderstood, because I had been attended by the medics twice and he thought that I wasn’t in condition to continue. It was two or three minutes of confusion until the medics got to the bench, and they explained everything well,” Kepa had told Chelsea website.

The Spaniard only made 15 appearances for Chelsea last season when Mendy played for Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations. Last august, Kepa would star, saving penalties in Chelsea’s UEFA Super Cup win against Villareal. However he had to face a lot of flak on social media after he missed the penalty kick against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final earlier this year at Wembley. With Kepa not being able to save any of the penalties in the 10-10 penalties spree, Kepa took the kick himself for Chelsea after Liverpool goal-keeper Caoimhin Kelleher scored his penalty kick. But he sent the ball over the crossbar to hand Liverpool the win.

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Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga protests after he is called to be substituted . (Reuters)

There were also talks of Kepa being on loan with Napoli but then the talks have subsided. “He is still our player, and we don’t know about the situation. He is a fantastic guy. I felt his disappointment around the Club World Cup, where he played a brilliant semi-final, but we put Edou in the final. I felt his disappointment, I could understand it even, and we had a talk about it,” Tuchel had said earlier.

Tuchel had also talked about how he never experienced Kepa being jealous of Mendy. “Maybe, you don’t believe me but I have never experienced Kepa being nervous, never, Not one single day. I never experienced him being jealous, not happy for his colleague and of his conqueror in the completion for goal. I have never experienced him jealous and nervous,” Tuchel had told Sports Illustrated earlier this year.

In his last five matches for Chelsea, Kepa has kept two clean-sheets and conceded only three goals. According to website Sportinglife, Kepa has a save rate of 75 percent as compared to Mendy’s save rate of 65.79 percent this season for Chelsa. The website also notes that though Kepa’s percentage of accurate passes is 84.38 percent as compared to Mendy’s 94.96 percent, his forward passes percentage per 90 minutes of 9.9 is higher than Mendy’s 6.92. Earlier this year, Kepa had also drawn praise from former England and Chelsea goal-keeper Petr Cech. The lanky goalie, who played in 494 matches for Chelsea and had 228 clean sheets in his career for the club, termed Kepa as brilliant. “Keep had to fill those big boots while Edou was away, and has been brilliant in all those games under even more scrutiny than usual,” Cech had said.

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In Sunday’s match, Mason Mount scored a brace but manager Graham Potter was impressed with Kepa, who had his fourth consecutive clean sheet this season. “I thought he did really well. It’s important for us. At times, we have to play out through the pressure, and it gives you the chance to attack the next line. So it’s an important aspect to the team. But ultimately, they (The goalkeepers) are there to save the ball for us as well and he did that when he had to, so yeah, a really good game for him,” Potter told CheLsea TV after the win.

As for Kepa, he is enjoying the win and the good times. “I am feeling very well, with confidence, with and without the ball. Self-confidence and belief in your work, in what you are doing and belief in the process is very important. Of course, I had really tough moments. I had really good moments, but in the end, it’s like life. You have ups and downs and you have to be strong mentally, sticking with your idea and keeping working. Now I am enjoying all the work.”

First published on: 17-10-2022 at 14:34 IST
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