Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Is Kepa Arrizabalaga a modern goalkeeper?

July 25, 2023 — I was curious to see how good or bad Kepa Arrizabalaga’s distribution was when Chelsea faced Brighton on Saturday. Here is every pass he made in that match.

Figure 1.1 - Man free far side.
Figure 1.2 - Kick long.

Brighton man-marked throughout the pitch, but almost always left a man free on the far side throughout the entire match, when Kepa had the ball. One forward from Brighton would de-mark and curve their press to force Kepa to one side.

Figure 2.1 - Open man far side.
Figure 2.2 - Pass to the free man on the right.

He would normally look for the short pass and was accurate with the medium to short passes on the ground.

Figure 3.1 - Tight pass to Connor Gallagher.
Figure 3.2 - Pass received on the right foot.

This pass was accurate to pick out the right foot of Gallagher in a tight space, under pressure from Kepa’s left side.

Figure 3.3 - Pass long under pressure with no free man.

If they failed to move the ball out, he would rightly resort to passing long to the forwards so that they could reset.

Figure 4.1 - Pass short to feet finding the free man.
Figure 5.1 - Goal kick pass short to Thiago Silva.
Figure 5.2 - Pass back to Kepa Arrizabalaga. Under pressure. Attempts a pass to Conor Gallagher.

Thiago Silva was under pressure, but he put Kepa in a bad spot with a slow-rolling short pass. Kepa should have just kicked the ball long to the forwards, but he chose the riskier medium pass to Gallagher.

Figure 5.3 - Pass is wide of Gallagher.

The pass was poor from Kepa, just wide of Gallagher, gifting back possession.

Figure 6.1 - Pass to feet to the free man on the far side. Pass received well on the right foot.

Then we go quickly back to nice passes like this to a player in the half-space. Good weight on the pass, firmly hit, and to their left foot so that they can immediately shield the ball from the Brighton defender.

Figure 7.1 - Chipped pass to the free man received normally to feet.

Far side is always open.

Figure 8.1 - Short pass to feet.
Figure 8.2 - Pass received.
Figure 8.3 - Pass back to Kepa. Under pressure. Free man on the far side.
Figure 8.4 - Kepa ignores the free man and plays back to Levi Colwill open.

This chip to Levi Colwill was smart, ignoring the free man on the far side. Brighton wanted him to play to his right, but the pass to the left opened up the play. Now three Chelsea players are free to receive and play out of their half.

Figure 9.1 - Chipped pass to the free man on the far side.
Figure 9.2 - Pass received well on the right foot.

Again, another well-executed chipped pass to feet.

Figure 9.3 - Pass back to Kepa. Short pass to the left side.
Figure 9.4 - Pass received normally.
Figure 10.1 - Two men free, pass to the man central.
Figure 10.2 - Pass received with three men on.

He should have chipped it wide to the far side rather than put the midfielder in the half-space in trouble with three men converging. Well hit pass though to feet.

Figure 10.3 - Pass back to Kepa. Pass to the free man on the far side received well on their right foot.
Figure 10.4 - Pass back to Kepa, under pressure. Forced to play the ball long upfield.
Figure 11.1 - Pass back to Kepa. Forced to play long but doesn't get good contact on the ball.
Figure 11.2 - Ball is played out of bounds.

Didn’t make good contact on this long ball, under pressure. Might have been the turf putting him off a bit with the ball bobbling but still not something that should never happen.

Figure 12.1 - Pass short to the free man on the far side.
Figure 12.2 - Pass received on their left foot.

His short passes are always accurate, as you’d expect.

Figure 13.1 - Pass on the ground driven to the free man on the far side.
Figure 14.1 - Chipped pass, under pressure, to Ben Chilwell out wide.
Figure 14.2 - Pass received well on Chilwell's right foot.

He got a little too much height on this chip, but I was impressed with the accuracy. Very smart idea and well executed overall.

Figure 15.1 - Pass on the ground to the man on the far side, under pressure.
Figure 15.2 - Pass received on the left foot.
Figure 15.3 - Pass back to Kepa. Forced to play long under pressure.
Figure 15.4 - Christopher Nkunku muscled out of the aerial duel.

If Chelsea had a more dominant aerial presence at center-forward than this 50/50 likely would have been won. Well-driven long ball that had to be made due to the lack of options short and medium.

Figure 16.1 - Pass back to Kepa. Forced to play the ball long under pressure.
Figure 17.1 - Simple short pass.
Figure 17.2 - Short pass received on their left foot.

That ends the first half. Great half. Outside of the two errors, he had a ton of touches, and the passing was well executed. The chips were crisp, and he did well to drive the long balls to the forwards rather than allow the ball to get too much air underneath it. That gives Chelsea’s less physical forwards a half chance at winning the aerial duel.

Figure 18.1 - Free men on either side, but Kepa chooses to play the riskier pass central.
Figure 18.2 - Pass cut off before it could reach its target.

A very bad start to the second half with this pass. He should have just played the simple ball wide to either defender. Not good but easily avoidable next time. Poor decision-making.

Figure 19.1 - Sweeping, forced to play the ball out of play.

This was a good decision. Don’t do anything dumb like attempting to dribble out of this. Just kick it out of play and allow the defense to get back and reset.

Figure 20.1 - Three free men on all sides.
Figure 20.2 - Kepa chooses the short pass to his left.

Towards the end of the match, Brighton’s counter-pressing wasn’t as good. Players were subbed out, and tiredness began to set in.

He should have passed to either player on his right rather than Marc Cucurella on the left because Cucurella was immediately under pressure.

Overall I’d say it was a good match from Kepa. 3 errors in total out of 23 passes against the Premier League’s most complex counter-press.

Figure 21.1 - 2022/23 passing comparison.

To answer my question in the title; Kepa Arrizabalaga is a modern goalkeeper. A modern goalkeeper needs to be able to pass and save, but most importantly pass. It’s a requirement now.

His distribution is not as poor as many will have you believe. He’s not Ederson, but no one is. The vast majority of his passes are accurate, to feet, and firm. The Spanish roots run deep.

Figure 21.2 - 2022/23 Goalkeeping and Advanced Goalkeeping comparison

You’d be hard-pressed to find a significant upgrade for Kepa, even if you wanted one. All options are sideways moves or downgrades. The only reasonable option would be someone younger that they can develop, like 23-year-old Yehvann Diouf from Reims.

It doesn’t sound sexy and cool to keep what you have, instead of spending £50m+ for a goalkeeper that may or might not be an upgrade, but there’s no better options. A backup would be good but buying a shiny new starting goalkeeper isn’t a must for Chelsea.

Kepa is an incredible shot-stopper and an underrated passer, but he can be prone to lapses in judgment. He needs to keep playing simple and maintain a higher level of focus because three errors can lead to three goals. Chelsea need to instill confidence in him to maintain consistency.

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