When Chelsea signed Edouard Mendy, there was a notion from the club that he was coming in to give Kepa Arrizabalaga competition. Of course, everyone winked at and nudged each other as it was quite clear Mendy was to be the starter and Arrizabalaga was to be exiled to the bench. Mendy starting off in superstar form and Arrizabalaga being, well, Arrizabalaga in his scant few appearances did little to change the perspective.
Then Mendy’s form started to cool off and, eventually, Thomas Tuchel arrived at the club. Tuchel has mostly kept the current dynamic between Mendy and Arrizabalaga, even calling Mendy the number one. But that came after a match against Newcastle where Arrizabalaga surprisingly started and did quite well for the second game in a row.
At the same time, Mendy’s begun to tank a little more. He’s being well shielded by the current defense, but he has still been good for a head scratching decision or two per game. Arrizabalaga starting against Newcastle showed that Tuchel was willing to make a change if the situation called for it. Suddenly, it almost feels as though there is a competition for the keeper spot.
Mendy seems to be feeling some of the heat as well, saying he’s willing to “fight” Arrizabalaga (and Willy Caballero, but come on, we’re not seeing him play again) for starts. That’s all pretty normal stuff, especially on the club’s official website, but would Mendy have said the same a few months ago? Or at the very least, would it have felt as real as it does now?
Much of this is predicated on Arrizabalaga having two very good games against two not so good opponents (on paper anyways). Mind, Arrizabalaga didn’t do much of anything extraordinary but it was the simple things that were holding him back before. He got those absolutely right in those two matches and looked a different player for them.
At the same time, Mendy is starting to struggle with the simple things. He’s been making awkward decisions since winter began, especially in regards to rushing out. He has been a bit too casual on the ball, showcased by Atletico Madrid nearly taking the ball from his feet right in front of goal early in the Champions League match. There is also the communication issues that occurred between him and Antonio Rudiger in that own goal. That goal is 99% on Rudiger (seriously, under pressure facing your own goal just feet away and you’re trying to pass back to the keeper?) for sure but Mendy didn’t do much to alert Rudiger either.
Maybe these dips from Mendy and rises from Arrizabalaga wouldn’t be so noteworthy if it weren’t for the simple fact that Thomas Tuchel would surely prefer a keeper like Arrizabalaga. A keeper’s job is, first and foremost, to keep the ball out of the net. But for many managers, they also have to be a very valid point of possession and a distributor. Mendy simply can’t compare to Arrizabalaga when it comes to that. It is not unusual for managers that prefer playing out of the back and possession, such as Tuchel and even Pep Guardiola, to prefer “worse” goalkeepers because they are better passers than the alternative.
Right now, there probably still isn’t much for Mendy to worry about. But all it will take is Arrizabalaga starting one match or two that seemingly Mendy should be for the dynamic to shift. Mendy is starting to show the mistakes Arrizabalaga did when he feared his position was under threat. The more mistakes made the more that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. There isn’t a competition yet, but it’s getting closer.