Chelsea flop Kepa handed Prem lifeline by Tuchel as Gary Neville admits he thought keeper would be ‘gone forever’

KEPA ARRIZABALAGA was a surprise name in the Chelsea line-up on Monday – not least to Gary Neville.

The Sky Sports pundit summed up why the goalkeeper had been ditched by the Blues when Edouard Mendy was signed to replace him.

But Thomas Tuchel handed him a first Premier League start since October for the game against Newcastle.

Former Manchester United star Neville was left wondering how the new boss could have rediscovered Kepa's best form.

He told Monday Night Football ahead of the game: "I think it's big, I thought we'd seen the last of him.

"I think Thomas Tuchel, since he's come in, has restricted the shots on goal. He will need to do that with Kepa if you see his form in previous games.

"But managers when they come in, particularly top managers, they believe they can improve players. So maybe he thinks he can get a tune out of Kepa.

"I have to say that he looked well short of what a top goalkeeper would be last time we saw him.

"I thought he would be replaced and gone forever."

Kepa made high-profile errors in all three of his previous Prem outings this season, flapping at a Leandro Trossard shot in the opener against Brighton before gifting Liverpool's Sadio Mane a goal.

Frank Lampard turned to Willy Caballero before Mendy's £27m arrival from Rennes, although an injury meant Kepa returned for an error-strewn performance in a 3-3 draw against Southampton.

The £71.6m Spaniard has since been restricted to cup outings and kept a clean sheet in the weekend win at Barnsley.

Tuchel's arrival has heralded an upturn in defensive form for Chelsea but his only goal conceded so far came when Mendy crossed wires with Antonio Rudiger for a calamitous own goal versus Sheffield United.

But Neville felt the change may have been prompted by the club hierarchy.

The 45-year-old continued: "I think it's a numbers thing.

"One, the club may be saying, 'We want you to get the best out of these players we have paid a fortune for'. That might have been part of the brief on the way in.

"Secondly, he's giving everyone a chance.

"And the third thing is probably the arrogance of a top manager thinking they can improve everybody by the fact they are working with them now – and that the last manager couldn't get the best out of them.

"I'd be surprised if we see Kepa turn around his fortunes at that club because, I have to say, he did not look like what I think a goalkeeper should be.

"Which is dominant in every single area; dominant in his box, dominant in terms of his presence, and he's just not."

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