Kepa Arrizabalaga finds himself in a bit of a bothersome spot at Chelsea. The Hard Tackle discusses four potential replacements for the Spaniard
At Chelsea, you are always walking a tightrope as a player. The fans are not the easiest to please and the threat of managerial turnover means a player can seldom be sure of a long-term future at Stamford Bridge. Another player who falls in this category is Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Kepa has had his fair share of ups and downs during his time with the Blues. The Spaniard did not get off to the best of starts at Chelsea and his infamous row with Maurizio Sarri last year meant he had not exactly endeared himself to Chelsea fans. However, as his maiden season progressed, Kepa impressed immensely and played a key role in the Blues’ Europa League triumph.
Kepa then started current campaign brightly, but has been on a downward spiral in recent months, making needless basic mistakes that have made his £72 million price tag look like a joke. Things reached a head when he was dropped for Chelsea’s Premier League fixture against Leicester City earlier this month.
Subsequent reports have suggested that Kepa’s future at the club is uncertain. A return to Athletic Bilbao has been mooted and if Frank Lampard does sanction a sale, Chelsea would be in need of a replacement. Here at The Hard Tackle, we discuss four possible options to replace Kepa.
Ajax has been regarded as the hotbed of promising talents for the longest time. But, ever since their spectacular run to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League last year, the Dutch giants and their players have attracted even more attention.
While Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt ended up finding new homes last summer, the other top assets in Erik ten Hag’s side have continued to be make an impression in Amsterdam. One such player is Andre Onana, who has been the goalkeeping extraordinaire for Ajax for some time now.
Onana, though, much like some of his other teammates, burst into the limelight during the shock Champions League campaign. Over the years, he has made over 100 league appearances for Ajax, making the goalkeeping spot his own.
As per recent revelations, Onana’s preferred destination when he leaves Ajax is the Premier League. To make matters more promising for Chelsea, the Cameroonian wants a move to Chelsea. Valued at around £34 million, Onana would cost less than half of what Chelsea had to pay to sign Kepa.
At 23, Onana also ought to have the best years of his career ahead of him and having proven his credentials in Europe’s premier club competition already, he would represent a fine solution for Chelsea to pursue. An economical option, in the current market conditions.
In the last couple of years, Lille have been on the up in Ligue 1 after having a close shave with relegation in the 2017-18 season. Last season they finished second, with only runaway champions PSG ahead of him.
Much of the credit for their resounding success was attributed to Nicolas Pepe, but Mike Maignan had a huge role to play in ensuring Lille had the best defensive record in the division. Like all of the goalkeepers in our list, Maignan’s peak should ideally be ahead of him.
Renowned to be a penalty specialist, Maignan has incredible shot stopping pedigree and has displayed remarkable reflexes in goal all through his career. Frank Lampard has had an up close look at Maignan when Chelsea took on Lille in the Champions League group stage this season, with the 24-year-old particularly impressing in the game at Stamford Bridge.
What is also pleasing about his style of play is his ability to catch the ball in tight aerial situations, a trait that very few non-English goalkeepers have boasted over the years. This attribute is especially impressive considering he is not among the tallest goalkeepers in the world.
Maignan’s price tag should be in a region similar to Onana’s valuation, which makes him another appealing target for Chelsea to pursue. The Frenchman, though, is yearning for a move to Liverpool and although the Reds do not really have the need to sign a goalkeeper, Chelsea could still have a big ask convincing him to make his way to Stamford Bridge instead.
For years now, Gianluigi Donnarumma has been regarded as one of the most promising young goalkeepers in the world. Still all of 20, the Italian custodian has been playing senior football for nearly half-a-decade now, playing over 200 games for club and country; a staggering figure for a player still arguably in the nascent stages of his career.
Having succeeded his namesake Gianluigi Buffon in the Italian national side, Donnarumma has had a lot of expectations placed on his young shoulders for quite some time now. The burden of these expectations has not always brought the best out of him, with the 20-year-old being suspect at times.
However, there is no denying the fact that Donnarumma has made steady improvements all through his career so far. The youngster is also enjoying a decent 2019-20 season and has been one of the rare bright spots in a blow-hot-blow-cold AC Milan side.
With his AC Milan contract up in less than 18 months, there is a sense that his time at San Siro could be nigh on ending. The duration of his current contract also means Donnarumma could possibly be available for a cut-price sum, which should attract Chelsea even more.
Having said that, the rumour mill is abuzz with speculation that Donnarumma could be Real Madrid bound. If so, Chelsea will need to move quickly if they are to prise Donnarumma away from AC Milan. Arguably the best option for Chelsea to pursue, will a switch to Stamford Bridge see the light of the day?
A slightly left field choice for Chelsea, considering there have hardly been any links with Pickford. The Everton and England no. 1, though, would represent a smart choice for Chelsea for quite a few reasons. Firstly, Pickford has years of experience in the Premier League and is well accustomed to the styles and demands of English club football.
While he has shown a tendency to make the odd howler, the 25-year-old has remarkable shot stopping abilities and is rather assured with the ball at his feet as well. Having been the outright first-choice for England for quite some time now, Pickford also has the experience of dealing with a load of expectations being placed on his shoulders.
Indeed, he was one of the best goalkeepers on show in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and has delivered more often than not. Like others in our list, Pickford would also represent a long-term solution for Chelsea, should they secure his services in the summer.
Mentally averse to criticism, in his own words, the steely outlook should keep him in good stead in the tough environs at Chelsea as well. Pickford, though, is unlikely to come cheap, considering he still has over four years left on his deal with Everton and a price tag of over £50 million would not be surprising.
While Chelsea have historically not been bogged down by high transfer fees, the fact that a busy summer would beckon them means they will need to make some economical buys, which could put the brakes on their pursuit of Pickford before it even begins. An option worth considering, still.