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Kepa has to be ‘stronger mentally’ in order to turn Chelsea career around – Zola

The former Blues assistant coach has highlighted areas in which the Spain international must improve to win his place back from Willy Caballero

Kepa is still “one of the best goalkeepers” in the business but he “has to be stronger mentally” in order to regain the number one jersey at Chelsea, according to club legend Gianfranco Zola.

Frank Lampard decided to drop Kepa from his starting line up for the Blues’ 2-2 draw with Leicester on February 1 after a string of underwhelming performances from the Spanish shot-stopper.

Willy Caballero was drafted in against the Foxes, with Lampard publicly stating that he hopes Kepa will come back “stronger” in the face of criticism and adversity.

The Chelsea boss kept faith with Caballero for the team’s first two fixtures following the winter break, with a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United at Stamford Bridge and a 2-1 victory over Tottenham at the same venue recorded over the last seven days.

Kepa could be in line for a return when the Blues play host to Bayern Munich in the first lef of their last-16 Champions League tie on Tuesday, with speculation over his future at the club likely increase if he is left out for a fourth successive game.

Zola witnessed Kepa’s talents up close while serving as Maurizio Sarri’s number two at Chelsea last season, and he thinks the £72 million ($93m) shot-stopper must learn to command his box and work on his “character” before he can fulfil his full potential.

“He is a goalkeeper with a great ability to play with his feet, which right now is one of the most important things because the way the teams play requires that characteristic,” Zola told Goal.

“He has good reflexes and is very strong, he has a great physique for the goal. 

“Although, in my opinion, there are two areas in which he should improve. 

“The first, when a defender goes out to clear, he must be more forceful and offer greater security. The second is his character, he has to be stronger mentally. 

“But it is normal, it is his second year in the Premier League, his second year in a team like Chelsea that has many ambitions and demands a lot from the goalkeepers. 

“I appreciate Kepa very much. I think this year he is receiving more shots than last season and that is affecting him. For me, he is one of the best goalkeepers of this moment.”

Kepa was involved in a controversial incident during the 2019 Carabao Cup final, when he refused to come off as a substitute before Chelsea went on to lose to Manchester City on penalties.

Zola went on to recall the controversial moment with a smile on his face, but admitted that there was a “great misunderstanding” between Kepa and Sarri.

“There was a lot of confusion. We were in the final minutes of the game and he tried to waste time. Then he threw himself to the ground,” said Zola.

“We wanted to make the change. He was injured and we were approaching penalties. On the bench was Willy Caballero, who is very good in those situations, and knew all the Manchester City players of his time there. 

“He did not understand, there was a great misunderstanding. We were also pressured because we wasted time. 

“What he did was not good, but he apologised and did not go any further. They are things that can happen.”

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