In what has been a topsy-turvy campaign to say the least, several players are guilty of inconsistency. Despite being impeccable in a particular game, they follow that performance with arguably their worst in a Chelsea kit – and manage to top it every time. While that is expected of a youthful squad, certain individuals, who are experienced, have not shown any sign of improvement over a period of time.
The biggest suspect of this inconsistency is none other than Kepa Arrizabalaga. The 25-year-old Spanish international joined Chelsea for a world record feefrom Athletic Bilbao on deadline day last year, following the theatrics of Thibaut Courtois to achieve his dream of playing for Real Madrid. Kepa had a decent first season; his reflexes and composure on the ball overshadowing his questionable shot-stopping (at times). His save percentage of 68% was not the best, but his ball-playing ability was crucial to Sarri’s system, and hence was ignored. He also underperformed in the expected statistics, conceding 39 goals in 36 games with a PSxG of 34.3 (giving him a total of -4.7).
However, this season, instead of improving gradually, he has declined massively. A dip in confidence saw him dropped for 38-year-old Caballero, but even that hasn’t seemed to have helped him. His save percentage has dropped to 58%, and has continued to underperform with the expected statistics. While he’s not making silly errors as he did earlier in the season, he’s not been at the level of a top six Premier League team.
“Most goalkeepers don’t save that, but a top goalkeeper does.”-Gary Neville after Zaha’s strike versus Chelsea
And at Chelsea Football Club, we have become accustomed to top goalkeepers. Should Kepa fail to improve significantly in the remainder of the season, Lampard may choose to look elsewhere for options. While a host of names including Onana, Areola, Cakir, Pope etc. have been linked to the club, I will be assessing three options that have been incredible this season, and are most definite upgrades on Kepa (keeping it realistic of course, not including the likes of Oblak, Szczesny, etc.).
#3 Thomas Strakosha (Lazio)
Thomas Strakosha currently plays for surprise title contenders Lazio in the Seria A, under the guidance of Simone Inzaghi, who is the younger brother of the legendary AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi. Standing at 192cm, the Albanian international keeper has enjoyed a very fruitful season, forming a crucial cog in one of the best defensive units in Italy. He’s featured in every single Seria A game this season, and saves an impressive 75.2% of the shots he faces (on an average, he makes three saves per game). The 25-year-old is also outperforming his expected statistics, with a score of +3.9 (difference between PSxG and actual goals against), which means he is performing above average. This figure also makes him the 2nd best keeper in the Seria A, behind only Juventus’ Szczesny.
While it is extremely rare to find a goalkeeper who possesses good traditional attributes as well as modern ones, Strakosha ticks both these boxes. As previously mentioned, his shot stopping is excellent. However, his passing attributes are incredible as well. The Greek-born keeper has attempted an astounding 968 passes, and completed 751 of those- boasting a 77.6% success rate. When we break it down further, he has completed 97.7% short passes (42 of 43), 99% medium passes (391 of 395) which is very impressive, and 60% long passes (318 of 530) which is also impressive. Strakosha chooses to launch the ball far 40.8% of the times, meaning he can pick a pass and play out from the back. In fact, 696 of his 968 attempted passes are from open play, and 91 of those are under pressure from opponents, with a further 15 switching play.
He also has 768 live touches per game, which means he is confident with the ball at his feet. However, a cause of concern is his cross collection percentage, which stands at 5.5%, meaning he prefers to stand his ground on the goal line instead of coming off it to collect the ball mid-air. For comparison, even Kepa collects 7.2% of the crosses into the box, and our fan base criticises him for the low rate. Strakosha has also made an error leading to a goal over the course of the season, while Kepa (theoretically) has made zero.
Despite these minuscule drawbacks, Strakosha would be a brilliant signing for Chelsea. Transfermarkt rates his value at 20 million Euros; however Lazio would demand a much higher fee. Regardless, he would be worth every penny, and has all the characteristics to be one of the best keepers in the world very soon. This transfer, in many ways, can be related to that of Alisson from Roma to Liverpool, to replace Karius. If we are serious about competing with the likes of Liverpool and City, this transfer makes a lot of sense, as he is similar to Ederson and Alisson- an incredible shot stopper who is brilliant with the ball at his feet.
#2 Dean Henderson (Sheffield United, on loan from Manchester United)
Sheffield United have stunned the Premier League as they sit in the top half of table, in contention for a spot in Europe next season, while most pundits expected them to battle relegation. While Chris Basham’s system of overlapping centre backs has stolen all the headlines, Dean Henderson, who is on loan from Manchester United, has had an incredible season, and is arguably a top three shot stopper in the league. The 23-year-old has a 76% save percentage and averages 2.7 saves per game. He is massively over performing when it comes to his expected statistics though- conceding just 27 goals against a PSxG of 34.1- giving him a score of +7.1. Despite this impressive score, he ranks fifth in the Premier League with Dubravka, Lloris, Guita and Leno all boasting higher differences. However, he is the youngest on the list and definitely has the potential to improve.
The young Englishman however, is a very traditional shot stopper- incredible ability to prevent the ball from hitting the back of the net, but not particularly great on the ball. His passing percentage is just 41.5%- a huge downgrade from Strakosha’s 77.6%. He’s made just one short pass all season- but that could be down to Sheffield United’s style of play. Henderson’s medium pass percentage is 99%, but he’s attempted just 97 and completed 96 of them, which a quarter of Strakosha’s, who completed 391. His long pass percentage however is shockingly low at 34.5%, completing 279 of his 809 attempted. Henderson chooses to clear or launch the ball up field 76.5% of the times, meaning he is not used to playing out from the back. He also has 651 live touches per game, which is not impressive. Henderson has the same cross collection percentage as Kepa, which is 7.2%, but has also made an error leading to goal this season.
While it is obvious that Henderson is nowhere near as good as Strakosha on the ball, their shot stopping attributes are similar- with the Englishman boasting Premier League experience. Also just 23, he has a lot of time to improve. Despite his parent club being a direct top six rival, Chelsea could just test the waters with a cheeky bid. The situation is interesting, as De Gea has had a subpar season, and Henderson has been incredible this season. However, De Gea recently signed a five year contract extension and is one of the highest paid players at the club, and would be unwilling to lose his number one spot to a relatively inexperienced goalkeeper. Henderson, on the other hand, would be unwilling to spend time on the bench playing second fiddle to the Spanish goalkeeper at an age where he needs regular football to blossom. Hence, an ambitious bid by Chelsea which guarantees him the number one spot could urge the 23-year-old to hand in a transfer request and move to London.
#1 Predag Rajkovic (Stade de Reims)
Predag Rajkovic, on paper, has been the best goalkeeper in Europe. The 24-year-old Serbian joined the French outfit Stade de Reims from Israeli side Macabbi Tel Aviv last summer, and has taken the league by storm. This is also a side which has exceeded expectations, and finished fifth as the Ligue 1 was cancelled and standings declared on points per game basis. Rajkovic has an astounding 80% save percentage, which is ridiculously high, and averages 2.6 saves per game. He’s conceded just 18 goals as opposed to the PSxG of 26.4, giving him a difference of +8.4, which puts him fourth best in all of Europe’s top five leagues.
One would expect a keeper of such shot stopping ability to be very traditional, and possess poor modern attributes, but Rajkovic is just extraordinary. He’s attempted a mind-boggling 998 passes-which is more than the likes of Ederson- while having played lesser games. It is, in fact, even more than Strakosha; however the Serbian has narrowly lesser accuracy of 73.7%. However, like Henderson, he has very few short passes, with just three. Nonetheless, he has attempted 383 medium passes and completed 382 of them with 99.7% accuracy, meaning playing short passes if instructed to do so shouldn’t be a tedious task for someone of his calibre. His long pass accuracy is 57.4%, which is also impressive. Interestingly, he chooses to launch the ball forward just 35.6% of the times, which indicates his eagerness to play out from the back, as well as his ability to pick a pass cleverly instead of blindly clearing it far away. Another interesting stat is the fact that 708 of the 998 are from open play, with 79 of them being successful under pressure, and 28 of them switching play. Further, he has 783 live touches per game, which is once again in excess of Strakosha, meaning he can be involved in play. On an average, Rajkovic also collects 10.1% of opposition crosses into the box- which is well clear of Strakosha, Henderson and Kepa. The Serbian also hasn’t made an error leading to goal this season, unlike both Strakosha and Henderson.
In short, Predag Rajkovic is statistically the best goalkeeper on the face of Earth. The perfect hybrid of traditional shot stopping and modern on-the-ball attributes. Valued at just 5.5 million Euros by Transfermarkt, Chelsea would be absolutely stupid- there’s no other word really- to not attempt to sign him. While the actual fee which Reims might demand for his signature would be higher, it would be astronomically cheaper than the 72 million pounds we splashed on Kepa Arrizabalaga. Especially due to the Ligue 1 being suspended abruptly and the clubs facing a financial crisis, Chelsea should be knocking on Stade de Reims’ door for Rajkovic, as he is simply perfect really- excellent shot stopper, capable of picking a pass, capable of playing out from the back and comfortable with the ball at his feet. He would also be considerably cheaper than the other options we are reportedly pursuing.
Sources and Terms
Sources- Fbref and Sofascore.
Terms- xG- expected goals. PSxG- Post Shot expected Goals (shots off target not included). Short passes- up to five yards. Medium passes- five to 25 yards. Long passes- above 25 yards. Launched passes- above 40 yards. Live passes- from open play and not from goal kicks, free kicks etc. Live Touches- touches from open play and not from dead ball situations. Cross collection %- Percentage of opposition crosses into the box collected.
That brings us to the end of the article. While there are certain keepers better than the aforementioned ones, they are unrealistic and cannot be signed by Chelsea in this window in my opinion. Certain keepers such as Onana, Cakir, Areola and Pope continue to be linked to Chelsea, but the ones listed above are my first choice(s) to replace Kepa in the long term, and I have hopefully given sufficient proof to explain my thought process behind arriving at this shortlist.