African All Stars

Can Mendy eclipse Salah and Mane as Chelsea meet Liverpool in FA Cup final?

8:53 PM GMT 13/05/2022
The out-of-form goalkeeper needs a colossal performance to outdo his countryman and the Reds' top scorer in Saturday’s decider

You are only as good as your last performance, and Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy knows this more than most after the criticism he has received in recent weeks.

The Blues' number one and Africa Cup of Nations winner’s game has been beset with high-profile errors that have cost the West Londoners of late, thus seeing supporters lose the faith and assuredness they had with the shot-stopper between the sticks.

Mendy’s dip since the last international break has been so bad that a rising section of the club’s followers will not question any decision to utilise Kepa Arrizabalaga in Saturday’s FA Cup final against Liverpool.

The Senegal goalkeeper’s drop off has coincided with the Blues’ worst run of results in 2021-22 in which they have fallen to four defeats in all competitions since the start of April, one more than they had managed with the 30-year-old in goal hitherto.

Even though glaring errors have been limited to games against Brentford and Real Madrid, a deterioration in the Senegal international’s shot-stopping has precipitated the ongoing criticism and a few calls for a Kepa recall on Saturday.

It seems a long time ago that Mendy delivered a world-class showing at the Brentford Community Stadium, making a staggering six saves in the final half-hour to preserve the London outfit’s 1-0 lead or a top class Stamford Bridge performance in the Blues’ 3-0 success over Aston Villa.

Against this weekend’s opponents, the goalkeeper has flourished too.

It was Mendy who preserved a precious point at Anfield when 10-man Chelsea played the entire second half with a player short and, more recently, delivered a stunning showing in the League Cup final in late February.

That final ended 0-0 after 120 minutes, but it was anything but a damp squib, with both sides fashioning quality chances throughout the game.

Two of Mendy’s six saves in that decider came in quick succession, saving a Naby Keita effort from just outside the area before throwing himself forward to deny Sadio Mane dispatching the rebound from six yards.

It was at that end Petr Cech made an equally stunning save 10 years ago to thwart a bullet Andy Carroll header in the FA Cup final to protect Chelsea’s 2-1 lead, a game decided by the irrepressible Didier Drogba.

Indeed, the sensible call would be trusting Mendy to reprise that Wembley performance from February as the West Londoners strive to reverse the trend of failed finals at the Home of Football.

The Blues have suffered defeats in two successive finals — respectively beaten by Arsenal and Leicester City in 2019/20 and 2020/21 — and want to prevent a third straight loss in the sport’s oldest cup competition.

Another victory at Wembley will take Chelsea’s haul of FA Cup wins to eight, one more than Liverpool whom they are currently tied on seven titles.

They moved level with the Reds in 2012 and could surpass the Merseyside giants who have not claimed this trophy since a Steven Gerrard-inspired performance in that rip-roaring 2006 final against West Ham United.

Nullifying the threat of in-form Mane would largely be half the job done, while Mohamed Salah possesses the match-winning quality despite an extended lull that reads three goals in his last 19 games for club and country.

17 of those games have been for Liverpool though, and it is worrying that the Egyptian has failed to even hit a shot on target in 11 of those games.

Mane, by contrast, has caught fire in the second half of the campaign, particularly in a central role which he has mostly occupied since the turn of the year. The Senegal superstar has found the back of the net seven times in 13 Premier League appearances since returning from Afcon duty in February, one fewer than the eight he managed in 20 games preceding the Nations Cup.

It was the forward who, by and large, decided last month’s semi-final success over Manchester City, too, notching a brace against Pep Guardiola’s men in a 3-2 success, and will be Jurgen Klopp’s key man in this year’s final as the Reds chase a first title in 16 years.

The stage is set for the repeat of the 2012 final, and there is a feeling the aforementioned African stars will either make or mar their side’s chances at the Home of Football.