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Chelsea vs Liverpool: Kepa stars on potentially pivotal evening for Frank Lampard’s side in FA Cup

Goalkeeper made several vital saves in first start since 21 January

Melissa Reddy
Tuesday 03 March 2020 23:07 GMT
Kepa Arrizabalaga punches the ball clear during a Liverpool attack
Kepa Arrizabalaga punches the ball clear during a Liverpool attack (Getty)

At lunchtime on Monday, Frank Lampard provided some insight into his viewing habits by revealing he had consumed a sports documentary that analysed the psychological impact of Liverpool celebrating a 2-2 home draw with West Bromwich Albion during the early months of Jurgen Klopp’s tenure.

“They were probably slightly ridiculed for it at the time,” he noted, underplaying the mass mockery back then.

“But to me, it is very symbolic of the journey of a team that is an absolute machine rolling everyone over until the last game.

“It’s a reference point.”

Tuesday night’s FA Cup encounter between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge offered a throwback to when the hosts were considered to be just that. The last time the sides renewed hostilities in the competition was during the 2012 final at Wembley, in which John Terry lifted the trophy after a 2-1 victory.

Lampard was orchestrating the midfield that May day, two weeks before he captained Chelsea to Champions League glory against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. As kick-off edged closer here, that felt like an altogether different era – not least as this Liverpool arrived in west London as kings of Europe and soon-to-be-crowned title winners, and this erratic Chelsea were decimated 3-0 by the German giants at Stamford Bridge last week.

Then, the Blues had no headache over their goalkeeping situation with Petr Cech in between the sticks. Now, Kepa Arrizabalaga was proving to be a £72 million problem.

The Spain international had been benched for the previous six games, but was restored to the starting line-up against Liverpool. He needed a solid showing, Lampard expected a strong response from the 25-year-old to being dropped and Chelsea, following a series of defensive disasters, required stability and confidence from their stopper.

Kepa produced five saves on a night that reminded the audience what he was capable of and why he commanded such an exorbitant fee that made him the world’s most expensive goalkeeper when he moved to the capital from Athletic Bilbao in 2018.

Three of those saves came on 20 minutes, when he stunned Liverpool by transforming into a human form of Thou Shalt Not Pass. He thwarted Sadio Mane from close range before quickly getting on his feet to avert follow-up danger from Divock Origi and then blocking from Curtis Jones.

Kepa’s save count was more than he managed in any of his 24 Premier League games this season and the performance came at a perfect time on an individual level and for the collective.

Liverpool manager Klopp congratulates Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa (AFP via Getty Images)

Chelsea, beaten twice already by Liverpool in the campaign despite turning in promising displays, finally outplayed Klopp’s juggernaut. Their goalkeeper was crucial to the result, but so was 18-year-old midfielder Billy Gilmour – the standout talent on the night.

Ross Barkley, so often maligned, was magnificent against the club he relishes rising up against most.

"Billy was brilliant," the former Everton midfielder said. “But it was not a surprise to me. I’ve seen him in training and he was like that in training last season.

"It was brilliant, a massive result for the lads. We needed a top performance tonight at home after two disappointing results.

"Scoring against Liverpool is massive for me. As an Everton fan, it’s always a dream to score against them."

There were markers all over the pitch from Chelsea, while Liverpool failed to score yet again and have now succumbed in three of their last four matches across all competitions.

Lampard’s young side are in transition, at the start of their project like Klopp’s was against West Brom in 2015. Perhaps this victory can act as the “symbolic moment” of their journey.

"We are not Chelsea of different eras gone by with Hazard and Costas, Terrys and Drogbas," the Chelsea manager said. "We've got younger players, but we are trying to bridge the gap upwards."

Yet at Stamford Bridge, they were the reference point with regards to intensity, effectiveness and mistake management.

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