'Outstanding': Rudiger claims his 27-year-old Chelsea teammate has proven so many people wrong recently

Antonio Rudiger has praised Kepa Arrizabalaga for defying his critics as Chelsea’s second-choice goalkeeper.

Speaking to Sport1, Rudiger hailed the Spanish shot-stopper for stepping in for Edouard Mendy whilst he claimed Africa Cup of Nations glory.

Kepa looks after the castle

Kepa kept Chelsea’s net relatively untouched during his fellow gloved guardian’s absence.

The 27-year-old secured three clean sheets against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League and Carabao Cup semi-finals.

Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

He then denied Plymouth Argyle a last gasp FA Cup equaliser with a save from the penalty spot.  

Al Hilal failed to score past the ‘keeper in the Club World Cup semi-final, thwarted by a pair of wonderful second-half saves.

Mendy’s victorious return from AFCON signalled the end of Kepa’s successful run in the side, but it shouldn’t conclude his status within the squad.

Chelsea and Liverpool challenge each other for the Carabao Cup trophy 12 days from now, a final the number two goalie is expected to play.

Before Thomas Tuchel took over, this scenario would’ve struck fear into the hearts of supporters.

Yet, thanks to the German’s reconfiguration of the group’s dynamics, such worries have been squashed completely.

A kiss of approval for Kepa

The fact there was even a debate about whether Mendy or Kepa should start the Club World Cup showpiece event says all that’s needed to be said.

Photo by Michael Regan – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

“He’s an absolute football expert who knows exactly what he expects from us on the pitch, and I think you can tell by looking at us,” expressed Rudiger on Tuchel.

“With his style, he takes the whole team with him and doesn’t forget anyone. 

“You just have to look at the performance of our actual second goalkeeper, Kepa, in the semi-finals, for example. 

“Kepa has been written off by many but has done an outstanding job replacing Edou in recent weeks. 

“Also because as a team we all believed in him, what a strong goalkeeper he still is.”

Chelsea are lucky to have such a strong understudy to Mendy, however, they might lose this valuable asset if they’re not careful.

According to reports, the Blues are expecting offers for Kepa to come in their direction over the summer.

Photo by Michael Regan – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Should this be the case, the Champions League holders will reportedly not get in the way of the £71m (Sky Sports) arrival from Athletic Bilbao.

Which will be a great shame, considering how much has changed for Maurizio Sarri’s signing in the last year.

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Nathaniel is a football journalist who graduated from the University of Derby. He has worked at Burton Albion as part of their media team for two years. Nathaniel produces regular articles for the club’s official website and match-day programme. He covered the 2018 U20 Women’s World Cup in Brittany and has reported from grounds ranging from non-league up to the Premier League.