The Champions League upgrade Frank Lampard is eyeing to replace Kepa Arrizabalaga at Chelsea
With Kepa potentially heading back to Spain in the next transfer window, Chelsea are reportedly eyeing up his replacementby David Alexander Hughes
It’s been reported this week that Kepa Arrizabalaga may be heading back to Spain in the next transfer window after another difficult campaign with Chelsea.
Valencia are said to be chasing the 25-year-old and would be willing to sign him on either a loan or permanent deal, the latter of which the Blues may favour as they try to recoup some of the £71million fee they paid when landing the keeper from Athletic Bilbao in 2018.
Frank Lampard has been unimpressed with the performances of Kepa this season and even opted to drop him at various stages of the campaign for back-up keeper Willy Caballero. Yet the Spaniard has still made 33 appearances for the Blues and did win his starting position back before the Premier League’s suspension in March.
Kepa’s potential departure would mean that the Blues will be back in the market for a new number 1, and it’s Ajax’s Andre Onana who looks to be top of their target list.
Onana has been one of Ajax’s leading lights across the past few season's and has already amassed over 170 appearances for the club since signing in 2015. This has led to a number of top European sides showing an interest in the 24-year-old, yet Chelsea’s potential opening at number 1 with Kepa’s possible departure could make them favourites to land him.
Standing at six-foot-three-inches, the Nigerian international has built a reputation of being a great shot-stopper who boasts both ability and bravery with the ball at his feet. Although this season’s Eredivisie ended prematurely as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, prior to that, Onana had enjoyed a strong campaign and conceded just 21 goals across 24 league fixtures.
This is 11 fewer than what Kepa conceded in the Premier League playing for Chelsea, despite the Spaniard playing just one game more.
A further delve into the two keepers utilising Expected Goals against (xGA) highlights that Onana has overperformed based on the chances created against him whilst Kepa has massively underperformed.
There are some caveats to the above to consider. The Eredivise is acknowledged as a division of less quality when compared to the Premier League and in any event, Onana plays behind one of the better defences in that division.
The above means that the Nigerian international has faced an average of just 2.91 shots per 90 this season - only AZ Alkmaar’s Marco Bizot has faced fewer. However, Ajax’s participation in the Champions League allows us to analyse Onana against much stiffer competition.
Within the season’s competition, average shots faced for Onana increased to 3.95 per 90 as Ajax faced tough opponents in the forms of Lille, Valencia and of course Chelsea, as well as qualifying matches vs PAOK and APOEL.
Despite this, the 24-year-old managed to restrict opponents to just ten goals which again was lower than his xGA of 12.62. Whilst this is only a fairly small sample size, it does indicate that his shot-stopping abilities are maintained even when he is called upon more often and against better opposition.
Not just good in keeping opponents out of his goal, he is also skilled with the ball at his feet. Within Ajax’s possession originated game under manager Erik ten Hag, Onana will often step out of his 18-yard-box to act as a deep-lying pivot for his side.
An extreme example of his comfort on the ball is highlighted below, taken from Ajax’s fixture vs Heracles in February. Ajax are chasing the game and Onana latches onto a pass from the nearby defender before carrying the ball up the field.
Rather than laying it off to his team-mate and retreating to goal, he opts to play a one-two sequence with his team-mate before carrying the ball further up the pitch and playing a long pass towards the opposition's penalty area.
Chelsea under Lampard tend to dominate the ball and build attacks from the back, therefore Onana’s abilities in the regard would be crucial to any transfer to Stamford Bridge.
However, should he arrive, then the above evidence suggests he would be a substantial improvement on what Chelsea already have.