Chelsea opened their Premier League account for the 2020-21 season with a 3-1 victory – a hard-fought one at the Amex Stadium against Brighton on Monday night. The Blues were not at their best and struggled to create many clear-cut chances in open play with Kai Havertz largely subdued on his debut, though had a little more cutting edge than the home team.
Timo Werner looked sharp, winning the first-half penalty that Jorginho scored to put Chelsea ahead, but was relatively starved of service although he tested Mat Ryan with a few attempts from wide angles.
It was a Reece James wonderstrike that won the game for Frank Lampard’s side as he zipped a 30-yarder into the very top corner with the outside of his right boot, while Kurt Zouma made sure of the three points soon after, his strike wrong-footing Ryan courtesy of a deflection from Adam Webster’s outstretched boot at a corner.
But the familiar talking point for Chelsea came at the other end of the pitch, with Brighton having only pegged the visitors back just 100 seconds earlier before James’ long-range effort made it 2-1.
Kepa Arrizabalaga was reinstated into the starting line-up and given a golden opportunity to send a message to Lampard as Chelsea close in on the signing of Edouard Mendy.
Sky Sports claimed earlier in the day that the Senegal international, 28, was in London to complete his medical and finalise a £23million switch from Rennes.
And so Arrizabalaga returning to the starting line-up on the south coast, having dropped out of the team for Willy Caballero at the end of last season including in the FA Cup final loss to Arsenal, gave him the chance to show Lampard he can fight for his No 1 spot.
But the goal he conceded at Brighton does not bode particularly well for his chances of staying between the sticks once Mendy puts pen to paper.
Leandro Trossard’s dipping effort was too much for the Chelsea keeper, dipping under the Spaniard’s outstretched right hand.
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It was a good and powerful strike from the Brighton attacker but given that it was going across goal, Arrizabalaga ought to have done better.
It was a shot that you would expect Liverpool’s Alisson or Manchester City’s Ederson to push wide of goal.
And it is Liverpool and City, who finished 33 and 15 points ahead of the fourth-placed Blues respectively last term, who Chelsea are seeking to catch this season.
But with Arrizabalaga in goal, and the weakness of the 25-year-old against long-range strikes, Chelsea will struggle to keep pace with the two north west teams.
Since becoming the most expensive goalkeeper of all time in a £71.6m switch from Athletic Bilbao in the summer of 2018, no keeper has conceded more Premier League goals from outside the box than the Spaniard.
The tally of long-range goals conceded since the start of the 2018-19 season now stands at 19 after Trossard’s strike.
It is a significant weakness considering that number constitutes 32.7 per cent of the goals conceded by Liverpool and in the same time-frame, with both having leaked 58 goals. Chelsea, by contrast, conceded 54 alone last season.
The issue is one that the whole team must address, with the back-line in front of Arrizabalaga also comfortable, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the man behind the defence simply is not dependable enough.
Pre-match, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher had said of Chelsea’s title chances: “Not for me, no. Because the spending has been at the top end of the pitch and until Chelsea rectify their goalkeeping situation I don’t see them winning the league.
“You only have to look at Pep Guardiola’s first season in England, Jurgen Klopp’s first 18 months, until they signed goalkeepers and they made the real difference.
“If Chelsea signed a top goalkeeper, I think that will make a big difference. And also to be fair to Chelsea and Frank I think the expenditure of this transfer window is almost three or four transfer windows of money getting spent in one go.
“They couldn’t buy anyone last year, they’ve still got the Hazard and the Morata money, so it is club money in some ways.
“Until they change the goalkeeper I don’t think they’ve got any chance.”
And on this evidence, Carragher is spot on. Arrizabalaga may have been okay other than the Brighton goal but title-winning teams need more between the sticks.
As Liverpool proved last term, teams at the top need to be capable of grinding out victories and Arrizabalaga’s shortcomings make Chelsea vulnerable to slip-ups – far more than they can afford to make.
The keeper has proven time and time again that he is not reliable enough to be the first-choice option for a team with aspirations of winning England’s top-flight.
He got away with it on this occasion as Chelsea went on to take the three points but if Lampard truly wants to haul in Liverpool and City, he really needs Mendy to be a success – and the new man in goal certainly needs to be better at dealing with efforts from 20-plus-yards out.
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