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Will Mendy be a misfit under Potter at Chelsea?

22:48 GMT+4 16/09/2022
Edouard Mendy Chelsea 2022-23
The injured Senegal goalkeeper may be on borrowed time at Stamford Bridge under the new Blues trainer

It has been a year of upheaval at Chelsea and there is a feeling it is far from over.

The dust is still settling on Thomas Tuchel’s unexpected departure last week with Graham Potter replacing the 2021 Champions League-winning manager.

While both trainers could broadly be categorised as progressive in their approach, there are still discernible differences in style.

Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Red Bull Salzburg puts the West London club in a position where four points from their AC Milan double-header is imperative to avoid facing an ignominious Champions League exit in a group where many had them as favourites to advance.

The next fortnight’s international break gives Potter time to settle at Cobham but October throws up interesting tests as well as tactical and personnel questions for the former Brighton & Hove Albion head coach.

One of those focuses on the club’s goalkeeping position, where there is a feeling Kepa Arrizabalaga may have the edge on incumbent Edouard Mendy.

The injured Senegalese custodian missed Tuchel’s last game in charge (the 1-0 defeat by Dinamo Zagreb) and Potter’s Stamford Bridge bow on Wednesday night, with the Spain international filling in between the sticks.

Of course, it will be ill-advised to make assumptions based on those two games, owing to Mendy’s injury, but not outlandish to raise questions over whom the 47-year-old will opt for between the sticks.

Supporters had grown unsatisfied with the incumbent in the final months of Tuchel’s time at the club due to a dip in his shot-stopping and a slew of high-profile errors in possession.

The trust that was initially built in the Teranga Lion under the German tactician essentially gave way to nervousness and nail-biting whenever an opponent bore down on goal or shot from distance and when he had the ball at his feet.

There were calls for Kepa’s reinstatement, a telling standpoint after how the Spanish shot-stopper’s loss of self-assuredness between the sticks exasperated fans of the club and then-head coach Frank Lampard.

Having said that, it would be remiss to ignore the encouraging showings from the former Athletic Club goalkeeper in sporadic appearances last season particularly when Mendy participated at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The enduring doubts about Kepa’s flawed shot-stopping technique will probably never go away, but you would be hard-pressed to find similar glaring mistakes made by Mendy in possession like in Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat by West Ham United last season, the home loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League and August’s calamitous gaffe against Leeds United at Elland Road.

While Kepa’s error in a 2-0 home defeat by Liverpool in a Premier League game at Stamford in September 2020 comes to mind, that goal came about from some smart Sadio Mane thinking and subsequent interception of the goalkeeper’s high-risk pass rather than any apparent tentativeness.

Furthermore, Mendy’s ropey sweeping ability may concern Potter. This issue was already highlighted by GOAL in his debut season at the club but admittedly has not been a consistent source of trepidation in the last 18 months or thereabouts.

Be that as it may, it was probably a relief seeing Kepa alert to a potentially precarious situation in the eighth minute against Salzburg by rushing off his line to bail out his defence.

A 40th-minute save to deny Benjamin Sesko from around 20 yards was pleasing from a Chelsea perspective as it was the sort of effort that might have caught out the Spaniard when his loss of confidence was apparent in that 2019-20 season under Lampard.

Absolutely nothing is settled, nonetheless, and it would be reactionary to claim Kepa has usurped Mendy as the Blues’ number one after one night under Potter.

Be that as it may, the Englishman jettisoning Mathew Ryan in the middle of his second season for Albion academy product Robert Sanchez after the former’s three full seasons as first-choice goalkeeper could be a portend for Mendy.

A return to his best will be the ideal situation for the Senegalese whose wider performances since the turn of the year have inspired little confidence.

How it pans out between Kepa and Mendy remains to be seen, but Potter will have to decide sooner or later over a preferred option in goal for the remainder of the campaign. That choice will undoubtedly get people talking.