Blues fans breathed a huge sigh of relief on Thursday, not just because it was nearly the weekend but because we finally signed, sealed & delivered Edouard Mendy. It was inevitable by the time it was announced after a solid month of concrete links, but two men who wouldn’t have been surprised at the signing were Petr Cech & Christophe Lollichon.
Both played a crucial role in bending Lampard’s ear to recommend him. Lollichon especially has admired him for some time, only last summer he waxed lyrical to French media of Mendy as “…for me, the best goalkeeper of the championship in France”. He even joked “…if recruiters do not look at him, it’s because they have to change jobs”. The Athletic confirmed Chelsea have been scouting him for at least a few seasons and so following the advice of their ex-Goalkeeping coach and now Head of the Goalkeeping department, the deal was done.
There can be no doubt with the arrivals of Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell that significant steps have been made to resolve Chelsea’s defensive deficiencies of last season. Nevertheless, we all know these moves would’ve been somewhat redundant had Kepa remained between the sticks. While our defensive woes can be explained by several factors from lack of leadership and experience to individual errors and struggling with set-pieces, there is no doubt Kepa was a huge Achilles heel. You only had to have watched games from last season or looked at the hallowed xGA stats alongside Kepa’s atrocious save-success percentage. A depressing but fair argument was that just about any keeper sound in the basics would be an improvement but Mendy should offer a lot more than that.
Most obviously, Mendy’s a better shot-stopper than Kepa but that’s no revelation. With his superhuman wing-span, blimp sized hands and imposing 6ft 5inch frame, he covers the goal well with impressive agility and reflexes for a man of such size. Crucially though Mendy offers promising cross-collection capacity. See @Jhdharrison1’s helpful data visualisation on this below. It shows him as one of the most effective cross-collectors in the Premier League, assuming he is able to translate this across the channel from Ligue 1.
Goalkeepers of Chelsea’s past like Cech and Courtois have all been renowned for commanding their areas and using their frames to collect more crosses than the Catholic Church, all while exuding calm over chaos in the process. Despite being a calm and quiet presence in the dressing room he is also said to be very vocal on the pitch and in constant communication with his back line. This should all go some way to remedy issues conceding from dead-ball scenarios at the very least.
However, what’s maybe forgotten in all of this is just what a huge asset collecting crosses is offensively. Having a keeper who can claim crosses with ease, a team can mutate defence into attack in the blink of an eye, consequently punishing teams on the counter by plucking it out of the air and catapulting it forward. This will be a huge asset with quick and dynamic players like Werner and Havertz constantly lurking, ready to bomb forward and punish space in behind. This was already something you could see against Brighton & Liverpool with defenders not afraid to lump it forward to try and exploit high defensive lines and sneak Werner in-behind early. Similarly, Cech & Lollichon are said to believe Mendy offers more on the ball, maybe not in the traditional flair sweeper-keeper mould, but in his ability to launch long searching balls forward.
Another key consideration with the signing of Mendy has to be whether he has the mentality to thrive at the top-level. It’s a huge step-up from Ligue 1 to Chelsea. While there is never any guarantees, it’s encouraging to look at Mendy’s slightly unusual career-arc here. At twenty-eight-years-old he remains relatively young for a keeper, but also not so young that you worry about him handling the pressure. More admirably still, Mendy was not long ago queuing up in the unemployment line, even considering quitting football for good after being rejected by a League 1 side. Overcoming this sort of adversity should bode well for making light-work of the pressure and scrutiny that comes with being Chelsea’s number one.
The game against West Brom came too soon for Mendy having only just joined the squad and started training. He could very well make his debut against Mourinho’s Spurs in what would be a fitting poetic cycle. Petr Cech was signed from Rennes just before Mourinho joined Chelsea for a record transfer fee for a keeper in Ligue 1, becoming one of Mourinho’s untouchables. Now Mendy has become the new Ligue 1 record transfer fee for a keeper, moving from Rennes to Chelsea where Petr Cech is Technical & Performance Advisor and Frank Lampard, who was also one of Mourinho’s untouchables, is manager.
So a new cycle begins. If Mendy can be as magnificent as Cech & Lollichon hope, then the twenty-odd million fee paid may be deemed a snip and he could exceed the cult status of fellow Senegalese Demba Ba at the club. If it doesn’t, that fee is still pocket money for Chelsea and the issue can be revisited next year in line with the club’s three-year plan to rule over the League once more.