Over the course of the 2017/18 Premier League season, Manchester City proved that no side in the division should have a weak link between the posts. The eventual champions had long ditched the error-prone Joe Hart but, following a series of inadequate replacements, the club finally spent big, laying out £30 million for Benfica’s Ederson.
As we frequently see in football, when the leaders lead, the rest will follow and, after Liverpool’s world record spend on Alisson, it was no surprise that Chelsea also felt obliged to aim high on Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea supporters would have felt aggrieved at Thibaut Courtois’ behaviour as he looked to force through his eventual move to Real Madrid. With only the ageing Willy Caballero and Rob Green, plus the young and untested Marcin Bulka as back up, the club had to move and, like Manchester City and Liverpool before them, big money was involved as 23-year-old Kepa Arrizabalaga switched from Athletic Bilbao.
The release clause of £71.6 million broke the existing record fee for a stopper, set by Liverpool and Alisson just a few weeks earlier but is the trend to spend vast sums on keepers the best ploy for title-chasing clubs?
Chelsea’s 2018/19 Premier League season began with a trip to Huddersfield and thanks to predictions from Infogol, fans of the West London side would have been expecting to see a clean sheet.
That forecast was to come true as the Blues came through with a 3-0 victory, although new keeper Kepa was barely tested. The Spanish international only had one save to make from a long-range Alex Pritchard effort while Steve Mounie hit the woodwork but, in truth, this was a fairly toothless Huddersfield side.
Tougher challenges await, most notably at home to Arsenal on the second weekend of the new campaign and the Gunners should provide more chances for Kepa to prove his mettle.
Manchester City underlined the value of a big money keeper when Pep Guardiola’s men lifted the title at the end of 2017/18. In the previous campaign, City finished third, having conceded 39 goals, 13 more than second-placed Tottenham. Last time out, new signing Ederson helped to trim that tally down to 27 goals conceded and that was the lowest in the league.
Over at Liverpool, as the club rotated between Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, 42 goals were conceded in 2016/17 followed by 38 last time out. Part of that small improvement was put down to the arrival of centre back Virgil Van Dijk in last winter’s transfer window and that underlines the fine margins between success and failure. With Alisson between the posts for 2018/19, the Reds will be looking to trim that goals-against tally even further as they look to mount a title challenge.
Manchester City’s improvement over one season was naturally aided by the fact that they scored 106 goals at the right end of the pitch. It could be argued that Pep’s men would have coasted to the title no matter who was between the sticks but clearly the manager knew there was an issue in goal and it seems to have been solved.
What City did prove with the arrival of Ederson is that a club can no longer take chances with their goalkeeper. In a sense, Tottenham have paved the way, with Hugo Lloris offering calm where once there was the chaos provided by Heurelho Gomes. Tottenham have improved and yes, they haven’t won a trophy, but they are a consistent top four side, conceding just 26 goals in 2016/17, and much of that improvement is down to France’s World Cup winning captain between the posts.
As for Chelsea, the club was largely forced into a move for Kepa due to the actions of Thibaut Courtois but while there may have seemed to be an element of panic behind the deal, the 80 million Euros required to meet the player’s release cause may prove to be money well spent. It’s been another active window for the Blues under new manager Maurizio Sarri but if Kepa can emulate the likes of Ederson and Lloris, he should prove to be Chelsea’s signing of the season.