After Sunday’s important point at Old Trafford, it’s advantage Chelsea in the race for the top four according to Kepa Arrizabalaga.
All eyes were on the man in the opposite goal as Kepa fist-pumped to himself in front of the Stretford End, responding to Marcos Alonso’s crucial equaliser shortly before half-time against Manchester United.
While Kepa was sympathetic for his Spain goalkeeping colleague David De Gea, who spilled an ambitious drive by Antonio Rudiger that ended up ensuring the top-four rivals split the points, our No.1 was grateful for a relatively quiet time, and most of all, that the Blues are still edging towards the Champions League.
‘We knew both teams would be feeling the pressure of a very important match because Man United are very strong at home and also have hopes of Champions League qualification. We were aware they could go level with us in the league if they won,’ the 24-year-old acknowledged after his first visit to Old Trafford.
At no stage did the Basque keeper have to deal with a barrage of shots from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s forwards, but he reacted well to a few tests early on, including from ex-Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku. In the second half, Kepa, who managed to look calm and decisive throughout and helped his team-mates adjust the tempo from the back, was impressed with how the Blues ahead of him held their nerve.
‘It’s true that they started better,’ he said. ‘Man United is a difficult place to play at – their fans gave them such a massive boost – so we were glad to have equalised and not gone in a goal down at the break,’ he said.
The draw kept Maurizio Sarri’s side in fourth place, now two points above Arsenal in fifth and only two behind Tottenham Hotspur in third, leaving sixth-placed Man United with a tough task in order to catch up.
‘I think it was probably a more positive outcome for us than it was for them,’ Kepa said. ‘We are quite pleased with the result as it means qualifying for the Champions League is still a realistic objective for us.’
The goalkeeper revealed in the wake of our defeat to Liverpool in mid-April, with four matches to go, the players had accepted that ‘we would almost certainly have to win all our remaining games to have a realistic chance of making the top four. We have drawn the first two, so we are really glad it’s still in our hands.’
With Watford at home on Saturday and finally a trip to Leicester City ending our domestic campaign, Kepa is determined this does not slip now. However, he highlighted the lifeline Chelsea have received from our rivals, who have also dropped points, proves how hard it is in the Premier League.
‘We must win our last two games. The last few weeks have shown us, more than anything, that no game is easy, whoever you are. Teams above and below us are having trouble winning matches.
‘We have to be prepared, stay attentive, maintain our focus, train hard. We can’t let this precious opportunity that we have escape us.’