Can Kepa Arrizabalaga replace Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea?
Chelsea announced the club-record signing of Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao for €80million. The Blues triggered the release clause just after Thibaut Courtois left for Real Madrid. This deal also included Mateo Kovacic joining Chelsea on a season-long loan.
Kepa Arrizabalaga Revuelta, also known as 'Kepa', joined the Athletic Club youth-setup aged 10. He spent two seasons on loan at Basconia in the Tercera Division making 31 appearances for the club from 2011 to 2013. The Spaniard was promoted to the B team to cover for the injured Jon Ander Serantes. He spent a couple of seasons with them, making 50 appearances before heading on loan for two years, away from Bilbao. He also won the U19 UEFA European Championship in 2012, as his international reputation continued to grow.
After having a fantastic loan spell at Real Valladolid, Kepa was included in the first-team for Atletic as a third-choice keeper. He ended the season playing 23 matches in the league making seven clean sheets in the Basque country. The 23-year-old began 2017-18 season with rumours linking him to Manchester United and Real Madrid. Towards the end of December 2017, Real president Fiorentino Perez openly talked about Kepa being a target for the club. Despite interests from the record-13-times Champions League winners, Kepa extended his contract with Athletic which shocked the footballing world. He was happy starting week in, week out for a truly great La Liga side.
His solid season for Athletic led to an inclusion in Spain's World Cup squad; although he didn't take to the field.
Style of play
Kepa is a classic Spanish keeper- which means he showcases world-class shot-stopping abilities. Standing at 6'2", he is amongst the tallest keepers in Europe, which also helps him when stretching to make those saves that are right in the corner. He is also very hard to chip past, not only because of his height but also his habit of staying close to his line.
Distribution is probably Kepa's best quality. He completed a massive 12 long balls per 90 last season in the lA Liga. This helped the forwards Raul García and Aritz Aduriz, as Mikel San Jose and Ander Iturraspe's creativity went missing in Benat's absence.
One of the only hindrances he will face in the Premier League is his hesitation of using his feet while shot-stopping. Often you would see him making outstanding saves but with hands. In England, strikers get into dangerous areas in the box, often resulting in shot-stoppers having to use their feet. The man example? His countryman, David de Gea. However, this is nitpicking which can be resolved with a couple of intense training sessions as he is already so good with the ball at his feet. He can also improve a little bit on his shot-stopping ability as Premier League demands more from every individual.
Will he be able to replace Thibaut Courtois?
The same question was asked in the name of Courtois as Petr Cech left Stamford Bridge in 2015.
The answer is as uncertain and unpredictable as Michel Gondry. But the odds of a 'no' is less. Kepa is a very exciting prospect and has a lot of potential inside him. Still 23, even at €80m he looks like a great investment. He has played two games so far, the last one being horrific for him as he made two errors which led to goals. Again, take a look at De Gea's early form. It happens.
He is young and these kinds of mistakes are expected. Chelsea fans will be having a lot of expectation. They're used to having a world-class #1. In time, Kepa could well prove to be their new cult hero.