Hazard: We lost the best goalkeeper in the world but the team is better this year

When Eden Hazard laid out the factors that he was going to consider in his decision-making over the summer about his future, one of the foremost was a show of ambition from Chelsea. The previous year’s transfer business weakened the team markedly, and with or without Conte, fresh investment was needed.

It took a while to get started, but with the signing of Jorginho from right underneath Manchester City’s nose, Chelsea signaled serious intent. By breaking the world transfer record for a goalkeeper, Chelsea followed up with an even stronger show of ambition. The quality of Mateo Kovačić on loan (at least initially) was the icing on the cake.

The drawback however was that leaving at the same time was Thibaut Courtois, Eden’s friend, and one of the proven best goalkeepers in the world. Kepa may have cost more, and may develop into an even better player eventually, but it the decision to break the bank for him was not without considerable risk. After all, he had barely over 50 professional appearances to his name before Chelsea paid his €80m buyout clause.

Fortunately, the early returns have good (and getting better!) and Hazard himself has been impressed.

“They are top players for sure and Kepa, the goalkeeper — he is a fantastic young goalkeeper with a lot of quality.

“When you bring this kind of guy into the team, the team is better for sure. We lost the best goalkeeper in the world but I think the team is better this year than last season and we can see it every weekend.”

-Eden Hazard; source: SPORTbible

Hazard probably didn’t mean to say that Chelsea are better team with Kepa than Thibaut, though it’s very easy to read such sensationalism into his quotes.

Regardless, Arrizabalaga seems to be adjusting well, helped in part by solid coaching and plenty of veteran leadership around him, including the two backups Caballero and Green. Perhaps to help him along as quickly as possible and to avoid too many growing pains, Sarri has been giving him all the starts, even in the lesser competitions like the League Cup and the Europa League. So far, it’s working, the confidence is growing, and the abilities are starting to shine through.

“There are differences with Spanish football. The player is less protected, inside the box as well. So, the rhythm is high but at the end of the day it is football, and the atmosphere around is very nice.

“I am really happy with how things are going right now. How this experience has begun, the results, my feelings and the team’s. It’s still early, the season is long but I am really happy with how things are going.”

[…]

“I am really grateful for [Sarri’s] confidence to sign me. Obviously he was key for me joining the club. I feel really comfortable on the way he likes to play, I am so happy and grateful.”

While Kepa hasn’t had much to do in most of Chelsea’s matches this season, with Sarri’s men hogging upwards of 70% of the ball, he’s been called into action recently thanks to a few persistent issues in Chelsea’s defensive execution of Sarrismo. His excellent saves against West Ham (from Michail Antonio), Liverpool (from Sadio Mané), and Vidi FC (from István Kovács) have even begun to turn attention away from his massive transfer fee as the number one thing to discuss about him.

Of course, that number isn’t going away anytime soon, but more excellent saves won’t hurt.

“It’s normal that when someone pay that amount of money they talk about your transfer. You have to show your value but I am not focused on my price, I am just trying to do my job.

-Kepa Arrizabalaga; source: Omnisport via Goal

As long as he keeps getting the job done, the price will hardly matter.

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