Should Kepa start over De Gea?
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Robert Moreno repeatedly insists he has no first-choice goalkeeper in the Spanish national team. His preference for Kepa Arrizabalaga in four successive matches contradicts that claim. The question is whether we should second-guess the boss? Has the Chelsea man justified selection ahead of David de Gea?
Until recently, there was no contest for the number one shirt. Andoni Zubizarreta, Iker Casillas and, for a short time, De Gea were undisputed choices despite fierce competition from the likes of Victor Valdes, Pepe Reina and Javier Clemente. Some believe both Zubizarreta and San Iker were trusted for too long, hurting Spain more than helping in their final few years. Moreno is bucking that trend, offering the gloves to three shot-stoppers.
When the former Barcelona assistant took charge in March, De Gea lost his spot. Kepa and Roma's Pau Lopez weren't guaranteed, either. Five months down the line, Kepa appears to be the unofficial number one.
It's an unfamiliar position for De Gea, Casilla's supposed heir. He captained the U21 side that won the European Championship twice. He's been tipped to wear La Roja’s armband like his predecessor. The 28-year-old began that quest at Euro 2016 but may not feature at the next edition.
Kepa could. The 24-year-old is the obvious favourite. He was given the nod in Malta, retained against the Faroe Islands and Sweden. Contrary to expectations, Kepa continued his run on Thursday night against Romania. The Basque native has a good case to continue between the sticks.
In Bucharest, Kepa's heroics ensured La Roja escaped with maximum points. The world's most expensive goalie produced a series of fine saves, particularly in the final stages, maintaining his country's 100% record in Euro2020 qualifying.
Romania showed greater desire in the second half after falling behind twice. They halved the advantage on the hour mark and pushed forward for a leveller. Their chances improved when Spain were reduced to 10 men. Kepa barred the door.
The Chelsea man produced a remarkable reaction stop with his feet to keep out a close-range header from George Puscas. Moreno must have felt like a proud dad.
He stood out because he saved us from a draw. We are very happy that he was able to help us in the end, just as each player does his job.
The manager surely knows about Kepa's lucky charm. Spain hasn't lost with the 24-year-old in goal. In fact, La Roja plucked maximum points from all seven matches in which he featured. Kepa's conceded twice since assuming his new role but remained undefeated.
His upturn in form coincides with De Gea's slump. The United keeper is culpable for three strikes against United since January, not quieting the doubters after his poor World Cup performance. His most recent gaffe, allowing Patrick Van Aanholt’s shot to squeeze under his body, led to defeat to Crystal Palace.
Kepa suits Moreno's free-flowing, high-tempo style. Comfortable playing out from the back, he isn't afraid to come out of his box to claim the ball when needs must, much more like San Iker than the more reticent De Gea. Drenched in confidence and eager to continue his new role, at 24, he is the future.
De Gea could return against the Faroe Islands today. A solid outing would help his case but, considering the opposition, it may count for little. Moreno is fast becoming a Kepa fan.