Chelsea fans, your wish has been granted.
With the current season already underway, the Blues have finally found a new goalkeeper in Édouard Mendy. Days after Chelsea manager Frank Lampard confirmed the 28 year old’s medical examination, the club announced his arrival late last week.
Mendy’s signing follows a shockingly-poor 2019-20 season from the club’s other goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Spaniard kept the lowest save percentage (54.5%) among all starting goalkeepers representing a club in the big five European leagues.
Chelsea have spent the past few months shopping around for a new goalkeeper, with the likes of Jan Oblak, André Onana, Manuel Neuer and Marc-André ter Stegen all having been linked to the club at some point this summer.
Though Mendy isn’t exactly a world-beater, it’s hard not to root for the Senegalese international given his backstory.
As recently as 2016, Mendy was playing in the fourth division of French football as a back-up goalkeeper for Olympique Marseille’s reserve team. He only signed his first professional contract later that year at the age of 24, and he didn’t make his first division debut until 2018.
Now 28, Mendy’s meteoric rise sees him join Chelsea, one of England and Europe’s most popular clubs. He’ll be playing alongside some of the world’s top talents, and he’ll have the chance to showcase his ability in both the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, two of Europe’s elite club competitions.
But with the opportunity to play at an elite level comes a heightened pressure to perform. High expectations have already been placed on Mendy’s shoulders, and while some of his strengths and recent statistics suggest that he’s ready to take on the challenge of being a Chelsea number one, there are a few weaknesses that could be a cause for concern.
In this two-part goalkeeper analysis piece, I’m going to break down some of Mendy’s strengths and weaknesses. I’ll mainly be focusing on Mendy’s shot-stopping (part one), aerial ability, distribution and sweeper keeping (part two), as these are the areas which I believe are most important to Chelsea fans.
Is Mendy worth his £22 million fee? Or is he at risk of becoming a Kepa 2.0? Let’s break him down.
Given Édouard Mendy is a goalkeeper, it feels natural to address his shot-stopping ability in part one.
From a statistical standpoint, Mendy’s numbers reflect those of a very reliable shot stopper. Last season, he finished in Ligue 1’s top three in goals conceded (19), goals-against-average (0.79) and save percentage (78.4%). He also kept 9 clean sheets in 24 league starts, which is good for a clean sheet percentage of 37.5%.
Mendy also saved 1.7 more goals than the average goalkeeper in his position would’ve been expected to save, which proves he can perform at a level expected of him.
Part of that is down to Stade Rennais’ excellent defensive set-up, which didn’t leave Mendy exposed to too many high-quality chances. Mendy only faced 74 shots last season, about 3.08 shots faced per game. PSG’s Keylor Navas was the only other starting goalkeeper (15+ Ligue 1 appearances) who faced fewer attempts. The Senegalese goalkeeper also only averaged 1.1 saves from within the penalty box per game, which is the lowest among Ligue 1’s starting goalkeepers
Chelsea’s shots-against numbers are quite similar to Rennes’. Last season, the Blues conceded just 115 shots on target, about 3.02 shots against per game. Only Liverpool and Manchester City — the Premier League’s top two teams last season — conceded fewer attempts.
Those numbers could improve this season given the defensive reinforcements Chelsea have brought in. Alongside Mendy, Chelsea have also signed Malang Sarr, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva, all of whom strengthen the Blues’ defensive line.
Given the similarities in shots conceded between Stade Rennais and Chelsea, I don’t see workload being an issue for Mendy.
Positioning and reflexes
Not everything can be quantified by statistics. Some aspects of goalkeeping — positioning, reflexes, etc. — can really only be analyzed through the eye test. This is why it’s important to get a visual sense of how the goalkeeper plays too.
Let’s start with a few of Édouard Mendy’s strengths. For one, he seems to have a strong grasp of the role’s positional aspects. From the clips I’ve seen, he seems to know where to position himself in all situations, and he knows how to reposition himself as a play evolves. He’ll either take a few steps back towards his line, particularly when he feels he can’t claim a cross, or he’ll step forward when facing an attempt from an angle.
In this 2019 Ligue 1 match for example, a Dijon attacker breaks into Stade Rennais’ box. He eludes a Rennes defender and goes into a shooting motion.
Mendy, who’s initially positioned about two or three yards off of his line, takes a few steps forward and positions himself closer to the edge of his six-yard box. In doing so, he cuts down the angle and eliminates some of the shooting spaces the attacker had to aim at.
Another example of Mendy’s positional awareness can be seen in this play against Strasbourg.
In this scenario, a Strasbourg attacker breaks down Mendy’s left side. As he’s pressured by a Rennes defender, he passes it off to a teammate, who’s positioned more centrally and has more space to work in. After taking a touch to prepare himself, the player strikes a shot to the opposite post from about 30 yards out.
As this play evolves, Mendy starts to backtrack towards his line. At first, he’s about 12 yards off of his line, but he drops to six yards when the pass is made. And when he realizes that the Strasbourg attacker is about to shoot, he drops a further two yards.
Had Mendy stayed high off of his line, he would’ve had less time to react in. And given the limited amount of time goalkeepers have to make plays in — this shot takes about a second to move from the shooter’s boot to Mendy’s gloves — erasing time off of the clock is detrimental to the goalkeeper’s job.
By dropping back towards his goal, Mendy increases the amount of time he has to process and react to this shot in, which is why he’s able to make this save.
Mendy’s positioning is actually a key reason why he concedes so few goals from long distance.
The Senegalese goalkeeper often positions himself about two to four yards off of his line. This position not only gives him an extra step or two if he needs to attack a cross, but it also gives him an optimal amount of time to react to a long-distance shot in.
Some goalkeepers prefer to position themselves higher in their box, which cuts into their reaction time and therefore results in a number of long-distance goals being conceded. But by staying somewhat deep, Mendy is giving himself a fair opportunity to track a long-range attempt and react to it in an appropriate manner.
Even if his vision is obstructed or the shot takes an awkward bounce, the extra milliseconds Mendy’s deep position offers him help him notice the shot in time and make a decent save attempt.
Take this diving save Mendy made in a Europa League game against Celtic as an example. In this scenario, a Celtic player attempts a shot from a long way out. The shot may seem like a low-quality one, but the bodies standing between the shooter and goalkeeper, as well as the shot’s bounce, add to the attempt’s difficulty. If the goalkeeper is not careful, he will concede a goal.
By maintaining a position close to his goalline, Mendy experiences little difficulty with making this save. His deep position gives him ample time to process the shot through the bodies, and the extra milliseconds he has to react in allow him to adequately process the shot’s tricky bounce and proceed accordingly.
Had he been positioned near the edge of his six-yard box, Mendy might’ve processed this attempt late and misjudged its bounce.
Another example comes from that very same game. This time, a Celtic player strikes an attempt first-time from just under 25 yards out. This shot deflects off of the boot of a Rennes defender and begins to skip towards Mendy’s goal.
But thanks to his deep position, Mendy is able to process this deflection in time and make an appropriate diving save with a controlled rebound. This, despite his vision being slightly obstructed again.
Another reason why Mendy is able to stop a lot of these attempts is because of his excellent reflexes and reactions.
Despite standing at 6 ft 5, the 28-year-old goalkeeper is surprisingly agile. He moves quickly across his goal, and he’s able to react to speeding attempts and deflected shots in a quick manner.
Part of this is down to his expressive style of goalkeeping. If you pay attention to Mendy, you’ll notice that he likes to take big hops and big steps. He’s constantly in a state of motion, and it ranges from readjusting his positioning with a big step to swinging his arms in order to generate power in a dive.
This expressive style, mixed with his explosive jumps, allows Mendy to react to attempts quickly and reach high shots with relative ease.
One example is this save he made against OGC Nice last season. As the corner is played to the near post, Mendy shuffles to his right so that he can be positioned closer to his goalline. He also keeps his body angled so that his chest is facing the shooter.
This excellent position sets the stage for Mendy’s reactions and explosiveness to take over. As the header comes towards his goal, Mendy rises up and brilliantly swats the shot over the crossbar.
Édouard Mendy’s expressive style helps in another shot-stopping-related area; one-vs-ones. His preference to use big steps to move across his goal allows him to approach attackers quickly and cover ground in only a few steps.
In situations where another goalkeeper might struggle to close the space down quickly, Mendy only needs a few steps to move from near his goalline to right in front of an attacker.
Take this example in a 2020 Ligue 1 game against LOSC Lille. When the final pass is first played, Mendy is positioned near the centre of his goal. But when the shooter gets the shot off, Mendy is right in front of him, near the edge of the left side of his six-yard box, blocking the goal with a solid spread technique.
In just three steps, Mendy was able to move from the centre of his six-yard box to the left side of it and stop this partial breakaway from being converted.
Here’s another example. Once again, Mendy is in his six-yard box when the initial pass is played. But as the receiver chases after the ball, Mendy sprints off of his line.
Although the receiver looked to have the edge, it’s Mendy who gets to the ball first thanks to his big steps and speed.
But don’t take this as a sign of consistent aggressiveness. While Mendy does have the pace, the frame and the commanding presence to attack most one-vs-ones and balls played into his box, he also has the intelligence to remain on his line if need be.
A lot of goalkeepers who have Mendy’s attributes are too gung-ho when it comes to attacking breakaways. When faced with a piercing through ball or one-vs-one scenario, these goalkeepers will almost always approach the attacker and throw themselves at their feet, even if the smarter play would’ve been to stay on the line and react to a potential attempt
Mendy is not like these goalkeepers though. From the clips I’ve seen, it seems like Mendy has a good grasp on when to attack an approaching player in his box and when to stay back and get himself set. He’s not overly enthusiastic when dealing with one-vs-ones, nor does he lose his composure when facing a breakaway. He has the presence of mind to process an evolving play, identify the best course of action, and execute that action, even if his instinct might be to charge at the player.
This is an underappreciated skill in top-level goalkeepers. It’s one of the skills that makes guys like Manuel Neuer the best in their position, and it’s something that really impresses me when I watch Mendy play.
Sure, he doesn’t get it right all of the time — no goalkeeper ever does. But he seems to get it right most of the time, and in a pressurized situation like a one-vs-one — where the odds are not necessarily in the goalkeeper’s favour — most of the time is pretty respectable.
Édouard Mendy isn’t the perfect shot stopper, as there are weaknesses in his game.
On the note of his expressiveness, there are moments where he mistimes a hop, an arm swing or a step, and that results in him conceding a goal that he could’ve made a better attempt at stopping.
The key to these expressive movements is to time them correctly. If you time your steps correctly, you’ll not only cover a lot of ground quickly, but you’ll also have both feet on the ground when a shooter decides to take a crack at goal. This usually means you’re in a good position to react to either side when the shot is taken, as opposed to having a foot in the air and your body — which is unbalanced at this point — wasting time trying to plant that foot on the ground and regain balance.
Similarly, if you time your hop and arm swing correctly, not only will your body be properly balanced, but you’ll also be in the midst of generating power for a strong save attempt. If you time your hop wrong though, you’ll still be in the air as the shooter makes contact with the ball, resulting in you wasting precious time getting back on the ground and getting set. And if you time your arm swing wrong, again, you’ll waste time bringing your arms back into a ready position.
I’m also not a fan of Mendy’s set stance. The 28-year-old goalkeeper likes to remain very low with his hands near his knees and his feet over a shoulder-length apart. Despite his height, Mendy prefers to spread his legs and crouch.
Though keeping the hands low is fine for long-distance attempts (the goalkeeper would have enough time to raise their hands up), Mendy also keeps his hands low when facing shots from within the box. This leaves him susceptible to conceding shots that are aimed at the top part of the goal because the limited reaction window prevents him from raising his hands up in time.
This limited window and gravity’s slight influence (bringing hands up takes slightly longer than bringing them down) work against Mendy, who has to waste time bringing his hands up from a low position into a high position when he could be placing them near his upper-thighs or hips instead.
By keeping his feet over a shoulder-length apart, Mendy is also limiting his mobility. A very wide stance like Mendy’s makes it slightly more difficult for the goalkeeper to get a good push off of the ground. Such a wide stance roots the goalkeeper to the area immediately around them, which isn’t useful when a goalkeeper has to make a strong diving save or move from the centre of the goal to a post.
Mendy’s most glaring issue (or at least, the one that seems to be discussed the most on social media) is his rebound control. The Senegalese international will sometimes parry attempts back into a dangerous area, such as back into his six-yard box or straight at the shooter. This leaves him susceptible to second chances, and he’ll often require the assistance of a teammate to clean up after him.
In a league with so many elite attackers like the Premier League, I can certainly see this being an issue for Mendy in his debut season.
Though there are some weaknesses in his shot-stopping, it’s easy to see why his shot-stopping statistics are so favourable. Mendy has a very good sense of positioning, he does a fantastic job handling long shots (something Kepa Arrizabalaga has struggled with), and he’s very intelligent in one-vs-one situations.
From a shot-stopping perspective, there’s a lot to love and look forward to.
This piece is part of a two-part series on Édouard Mendy, Chelsea’s newest goalkeeper. To learn more about Mendy’s aerial ability, distribution and sweeper keeping, check out part two here.
Mouhamad Rachini is a journalist and goalkeeper enthusiast. You can reach him on Twitter via @ThatArabKeeper.