First off congratulations to my dear Blues for securing Champions League football next season, and let's hope we cap it off with a trophy on Saturday. Of course the internet is on fire now on what to do about Chelsea's defense which indeed has honestly been abysmal this season!
While I agree we currently lack a top world class defender, I'd say the main problem still lies between the sticks with Kepa, and I am for a new goalkeeper to come in to truly give him a run for his money. I am okay with him going out on loan, but do not think he should be sold. Unfortunately, I believe he is probably NOT the kind of keeper for an elite team unless he makes dramatic improvements.
The Good: The good thing about Kepa is he is a great shot stopper. He has really good reflexes and is able to use both his legs to stop the ball... umm... okay... what else? Nothing! Thanks God for the almighty internet and YouTube we can see that he is a good shot stopper... at times!
The Bad: The problem is shot stopping is where his quality appears to have stopped. Looking at the clip above, even in a clip that is designed to show us his "amazing saves" you see a lot of the problems he has as a goalkeeper.
First: He doesn't catch goal scramble balls a lot. A number of those saves he made could have been caught and ended the goal threat immediately. Though the editor of the clips cut off the rest of the play, you can see in more than a few instances his parried saved shot went back into play to an opposing player who was able to make another attempt on goal. Most other true world class keepers are able to parry a shot out of play for a corner, or strong outside the 18 punch to allow the defense to reset.
Second: He loves to stay in his goal. This is his second biggest shortfall. For some peculiar reason, he much prefers to stay as close to his goal line as much as he can during a game rather that come out and command the 18 and also organize and dictate to his defense. As a result, his defense does not always know where he is and what areas need to be plugged. His staying in goal means he does not come out to cut off balls coming from the wings or attack the ball from corners. The fact of the matter is if you leave your saving till the ball is withing a few feet of your goal, you have invariably greatly diminished your chance to stop that ball! To compare, take a look at some of Peter Cech's greatest saves and note one very obvious consistent fact, when Peter Cech parried the ball, in MOST cases that ball when out of play for a corner, allowing the defense to reset. Cech was also outstanding at cutting of balls from the wings or corners, this only diminished a bit understandably after his head injury and then in response his reflexes got even better.
Third: Bad positioning. I believe this is the biggest shortfall Kepa has and which I fear cannot be fixed. Watch the Cech video again and notice how he was most times about 10 feet from his goal line as starting point. Always moving in a "arc" from goal post to post. He then adjusts his position as the play is coming towards him. Kepa has not been able to sort out what his best positioning should be to stop shots. He comes out when he should have stayed in goal, as I noted above stays most of the time in goal minimizing his ability to react fast enough to make the save. A lot of the outside 18 goals that Kepa has conceded had nothing to do with defense frailties, again if the shot comes from outside the box, the defenders have arguably done their job stopping play from coming into the box and it then up to the keeper between the sticks to stop the shot. The best example of this is Zaha's goal recently a few weeks ago against us. Zaha picks up the ball, just past the center circle (imagine that far from goal! Wetin defense suppose do eh!?) takes 2-3 steps that is enough TIME for Kepa to adjust his positioning in goal but he does not. Zaha unleashes a shot and yeepah! Goal! Look at the clip below and notice this was not a looping or dipping arched shot, but a straight forward rising shot. Had Kepa been better positioned, he'd have seen the shot and been able to parry it over the bar at a minimum.
Take a look at Manuel Neuer's training clip below. Notice how most times his starting point for positioning is at least a few feet from the goal line. Allowing him those needed seconds to come out and react to the ball better. And also what this does is in case there is any error, you still have a few feet behind you to scramble and get the ball away especially in the case of a really hot shot coming hard and fast at you!
The Ugly: So how do you teach a Keeper to fix these shortfalls? Can you? Looking at the clip below you see how many goals where Kepa does NOT even MOVE an inch! Why, bad positioning to begin with as noted above. But does Kepa want to get betta? Who knows? Is he not interested in winning the golden gloves one season? I know Peter Cech is not his goalkeeping coach, but if I was him, I'd have found Peter, locked him in a room with me at the training ground for a full day and said, Peter I take God beg you, download everything on me please! Also, keep in mind Kepa is not a very tall goalkeeper, at just 6' 1" he is one of the shorter keepers between the sticks, this is why his positioning is crucial. He does not have the luxury of a great extended reach like Courtois, who is 6' 6" to get to the ball fast or defend shots that come in close and fast, this is why he needs to be better positioned to react to the ball. Manuel Neuer is an expert positioner as is Allison.
If Chelsea plan to compete for the league title next year and also do well in Champions league, I'd say fixing the man between the sticks is far more important that fixing the defense.
A word on the defense: The defense if not great, but it is not bad and it is in transition. Aspi is not the old unpassable Aspi and needs cover from the midfield, as strange as this might sound, I'd first make a change in the midfield. I would make a call for Loftus Cheek to become more defense minded and possibly a box to box player but play more defense and also have Kovacic play deeper supporting the defense. Why? With the two excellent signings, the attack is about to be fixed. Rotating the attack between Abraham, Giroud, Timo, Hakim, Pulisic, Mount, hopefully Hudson-Odoi gets his game back and let's PRAY Kai Havetz will bring us a boatload of goals! And I mean Man City like boatload of goals! So Kante, Kovacic and RLC can play more defensive roles. RLC has the stature to be a good defensive mid just like Mikel Obi and Matic, in addition when needed he can indeed be a better threat on goal in those games where he moves forward. By the way don't forget we have Ethan Ampadu getting valuable experience in Germany. With that change, it gives the defense more cover. Zouma can be pushed to be a more no nonsense defender, a problem Rudiger is guilty of many times, forget playing cute and forget trying to pass out of the defense just get the ball outta the 18 as fast and as cleanly as possible. This was John Terry's specialty (as well as scoring goals). Zouma is 25 and Christensen if 24, age is still on their side and so is improvement. I do not think it would be smart to sideline or sell them just as they move into their prime. Its about time we stop losing players that come back and hurt and haunt us. As for Alonso, the possible solution to him is to switch to three at the back, which frees him of a lot of defensive responsibilities and allows him to move up the pitch which he likes, at his age, we probably have two more seasons of him at his best, I'd take those two seasons and use him to his max potential.
My next piece will be a recap of the season and also looking forward to the next. Oh! If you think I am joking or blowing smoke about the boatload to goals next season. Take a look at this new true Blue player...!