In this series, I’m going to analyse Chelsea’s current and future situation in the 4 main positions, goalkeeper, defence, midfield and attack, identifying our strengths, weaknesses and where we need to strengthen immediately and in the future. Today, I’m looking at the goalkeepers.
Current goalkeepers on Chelsea’s books: Petr Cech, Thibaut Courtois, Ross Turnbull, Henrique Hilario, Sam Walker, Jamal Blackman, Matej Delac, Mitchell Beeney, Ben Killip.
It has to be said that very few teams worldwide have two goalkeepers with the quality of Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois. The experienced, reliable Czech and the young, flawless Belgian have got Chelsea’s No.1 jersey in safe hands for the next twenty years. With the 30-year-old Petr Cech starting to suffer from repeated injuries, Courtois may well be brought into the Chelsea first-team setup earlier than expected. And he is more than ready for it. Here’s a comparison between the two:
Courtois has spent the last 20 months on loan at Atletico Madrid, where he has excelled. After establishing his position as Atletico’s first choice goalkeeper early last season, Courtois has been exceptional, keeping an outstanding 42 clean sheets in 84 games for Los Rojiblancos, in addition to 4 clean sheets in his 7 internationals. Courtois has been a crucial part of Atletico’s magnificent league season, which has seen them hold 2nd place for the entire duration of the campaign ahead of their city rivals, Real. With only 23 in the goals against column, Atletico have had the tightest defence in La Liga this season, and Courtois has been ever-present in ensuring that. It’s no surprise that both Barcelona and Real Madrid have been linked with moves to sign Thibaut Courtois, because there just isn’t a weakness is his game.
According to Thibaut himself, the club’s plan for his development (though it has to be said there is little room for improvement) is that Courtois will be Chelsea’s first choice keeper by 2015, and this makes sense. Both Courtois and Cech are simply too good to let go of, and too good to sit on the bench. So next season, Courtois will be loaned to a Premier League side while Cech stays at Stamford Bridge.
Finding a club to take Courtois shouldn’t be hard, as he’d be the undisputed first choice anywhere except Man City and possibly Spurs. We’d want Courtois to be reasonably busy, without the club being too much of a downgrade in quality from Atletico. And we’d also like him to be playing European football if possible. With Pepe Reina in poor form for Liverpool, Anfield could be a possible destination, and Liverpool’s attractive style of football could allow Courtois to adjust to the sort of tactics that seem to be Chelsea’s long term plan.
He’d have to improve his distribution to work well with Brendan Rodgers’s tiki-taka system, which is probably the only area of his game that can be improved. Arsenal’s Szczesny has also been shaky, and they play a similarly pleasing brand of football. If Arsenal are in the Champions League, that could be an ideal club, especially due to the London location. We might be a bit reluctant to give such a talented player to a direct rival, but we didn’t stop Yossi Benayoun going there last year.
By the end of the 2013-14 season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Courtois is the best goalkeeper in world football (he is already one of the best).There would be little point in loaning him out again, so I foresee Courtois staying at the Bridge for the 2014-15 season. He would have 2 years left on his contract if it is not renewed before then, as would Cech, so it would make sense that Courtois and Cech would be rotated in 2014-15, like United rotate De Gea and Lindegaard. And it would make sense that Cech would leave in summer 2015, with one year left on his contract, aged 32. He’d still have plenty of takers (he’d still be a top-class keeper) and Chelsea would have 15 or 20 years of Thibaut Courtois between the sticks. Sounds perfect.
But beyond those two, things become more complicated. Both Ross Turnbull and Henrique Hilario are out of contract at the end of the season, and there’s no good reason to keep either of them. Leaving Petr Cech, Sam Walker and Matej Delac. Neither Walker nor Delac are anywhere near ready for the first team; Delac is doing OK at Inter Zapresic in Croatia, while Blackman has been quite good for Colchester. The gap in quality between the Croatian league, League One and the Premier League is just too big, and I would be terrified if Cech got another injury and we had to use Walker or Delac for an extended period of time. Blackman, Beeney and Killip have done well enough in Chelsea’s youth ranks, but all three need several years and several loans before they will be in consideration for the first team squad.
This means that Chelsea will need to buy a new backup goalkeeper in the summer. In the past, we’ve been linked to the likes of Tim Krul and even Rob Green, and more recently Asmir Begovic, Jack Butland and David De Gea. Butland would have been perfect; he’s young, talented and home-grown with seemingly limitless potential. We had a bid accepted for him in January, but sadly he chose Stoke City over Chelsea, opting for regular first-team football rather than a healthy bank balance warming Chelsea’s bench.
Fair enough, I guess. This does open another door; Asmir Begovic. The Bosnian has had a terrific season for Stoke, attracting interest from Man United and Liverpool as well as Chelsea. Butland will surely be Stoke’s No.1 next season, and a back-up keeper at Stoke is unlikely to see many minutes at all, making it a certainty that the much-coveted Begovic will leave. One may ask why a player as good as Begovic would voluntarily go from first choice at Stoke, or most other Premier League teams, to Chelsea’s bench. But Begovic has tried to join Chelsea in the past without success, and has previously shown willingness to be a back-up, both at Portsmouth and Stoke. There would certainly be competition to sign him, and a hefty price tag – £15m has been mooted – but Begovic would be a very good signing.
A more recent rumour has been David De Gea. The Spaniard has proven himself to be the footballing equivalent of Count Dracula; generally impressive and very agile, but terrified of crosses. But this would be confounding for two reasons; firstly, why would De Gea want to go to Chelsea as a back-up when he is first choice at United and secondly, why would United sell him? The articles concerned (admittedly not the most reliable sources) work the angle that Alex Ferguson has given up on De Gea, and is willing to sell him, and Chelsea want a back-up for Cech, and De Gea fits the bill. A deal for De Gea would make perfect sense from Chelsea’s point of view, but certainly not for United or the player himself. De Gea is a keeper of enormous talent and potential, and rotting on Chelsea’s bench would make no sense, especially for someone who aspires to break into the Spanish team. And given the immense talent of De Gea, if Chelsea did sign him the best option would probably be to loan him out, unless Cech is sold. That won’t happen, because Cech signed a four-year contract extension last summer. And Courtois is better than De Gea anyway, so if Cech was sold it’s more likely that Courtois would stay, De Gea would be loaned and Chelsea would have to buy another keeper. What I’m trying to say is that De Gea to Chelsea makes no sense whatsoever.
And a back-up keeper certainly doesn’t need to be as good as David De Gea, or even Asmir Begovic. A lower-profile, young keeper who has potential, but is already at a big club where they aren’t first-choice should be the type of player we should be looking for. I can see one stand-out candidate; Alphonse Aréola from Paris Saint Germain. With Nicolas Douchez and Salvatore Sirigu in front of him, Aréola is a long way away from the PSG first team, and I think Aréola would be quite receptive to an offer from Chelsea. He’d be eligible for the U21s next season, so he’d be guaranteed minutes even if it didn’t come in the first team, along with some first team action in the cups. I don’t think PSG would fight too hard too keep him, and Aréola would be a clear upgrade over Turnbull and Hilario. Look no further than Alphonse Aréola.