Chelsea were involved in a transfer merry-go-round last summer which resulted in wantaway goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois returning to Madrid, with his replacement, Kepa Arrizabalaga, signing for a world record fee. But how do the two compare this season, and which club has had the last laugh?
Thibaut Courtois was considered a reliable figure in-between the posts during his time at Chelsea, but fans’ opinions on the Belgian rapidly changed after he went AWOL and demanded a move back to his beloved Madrid.
While fans were understandably angered by Courtois’ actions, the 26-year-old got his wish and jetted off to Real Madrid for ‘family reasons’. The Belgian’s justification behind his return to Madrid caused controversy and many supporters were reluctant to believe him. On the matter, Courtois’ agent, Christophe Henrotay, said:
Chelsea were left with very little time to replace Courtois who had signed for Los Blancos for a measly £35 million on 8th August, the day before the transfer deadline in England.
The Blues were forced to act quickly and brought in Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao for a world record £72 million. Due to the circumstances in which Courtois left, Kepa instantly became a fans’ favourite and was tipped to become a long-term success at Stamford Bridge after signing a seven-year contract.
How do Kepa and Courtois compare this season?
The two primary factors when comparing goalkeepers are their shot stopping abilities and their qualities on the ball. Both are vital components for a modern day goalkeeper and the two players in question have produced impressive figures in these departments this season.
Solely looking at the 2018/19 campaign, Kepa has kept 11 clean sheets in the Premier League and has made 65 saves. In comparison, Courtois has kept eight clean sheets in La Liga and has racked up 51 saves. While these figures may look inferior for Courtois, the Belgian has a better save-per-game ratio, 2.83 compared to Kepa’s 2.52.
However, Courtois concedes goals more frequently than Kepa. Neither goalkeeper will be content with the rate at which they are picking balls out of their net, with Courtois conceding 1.83 goals per game and Kepa not doing much better at 1.48 per game.
With Courtois’ superior height, it is not a surprise that he towers Kepa when it comes to collecting crosses. The Real Madrid goalkeeper, who stands at a whopping 6’6, has a ‘claims success’ rate of 0.83 per game compared to Kepa’s 0.36, who is almost half a foot shorter than his predecessor.
Football has always been a fast-paced sport in which the men between the sticks must be quick off their line, particularly in the top leagues. Neither player stands head and shoulders above the other in this department this season, although Kepa has a slightly better ‘rush-out’ rate, 0.24 per game compared to Courtois’ 0.17.
Many managers in the modern game implement a playing style that demands their goalkeepers to become an 11th outfield player. Current Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri is one of them and he expects his goalkeeper to be comfortable with the ball at his feet. This is perhaps one of the primary reasons the club opted for Kepa to be Courtois’ replacement, and the stats justify the decision.
The Spaniard has completed 626 passes this season, dwarfing Courtois’ 352, although it only works out at just over five more passes per game. Kepa is well-known for being able to start attacks from his own box, but he can also deliver perfect long passes. He has completed almost twice as many long balls as his rival, 123 compared to 71, and has a superior distribution accuracy.
Courtois has been prone to errors this season and has been heavily criticised for his inability to save shots at his near post. Zinedine Zidane was reappointed as the Real Madrid manager earlier this month and instantly dropped the 26-year-old for the well-trusted Keylor Navas. With the Costa Rican unlikely to be displaced by his manager, Courtois could be looking at limited game time under Zidane.
With the way both players have performed this season, it is hard to argue against Chelsea getting the better end of the deal, particularly with how young Kepa is. Blues fans’ excitement over the youngster last summer looks to be justified while Courtois struggles to win over the crowd at the Bernabéu.
Chelsea’s era with Courtois in goal was certainly successful, winning two Premier League titles and two domestic cups. But with Kepa tied down to a seven-year contract, fans have reason to be optimistic that there are even more successful times ahead.
Neither goalkeeper is in their prime yet, with Courtois being 26-years-old and Kepa just two years younger, and both are justifiably playing at the highest level in football. Kepa is exceeding expectations at the Bridge and, while the Real Madrid goalkeeper may not be having the season many would have expected, it is difficult to forget how good Courtois can be.
The statistics reflect the general consensus amongst fans: Kepa, on paper at least, is outperforming the man he replaced at Chelsea. After a frustrating and tiresome transfer saga, the Blues look to be in safe hands.
Written by Liam Wilson.