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Kepa v Courtois: Who would Chelsea (& Zidane) choose today?

COMMENT: So today Chelsea fans. Right here, right now. Would you swap Kepa Arrizabalaga for Thibaut Courtois? Better yet, Real Madrid fans, would you swap Courtois for Kepa...?

They had their chance, did Real. It's old news now, but less than two years ago Real Madrid had a buttoned up deal for Kepa. With less than six months left on his Athletic Bilbao contract, he was all set to be Real's big signing for January 2018. Florentino Perez, the Real president, had settled on terms. As had Kepa's reps. It was done. The then Spain U21 international would be joining the world's biggest club for next to nothing.

That is, until Zinedine Zidane's intervention. The Real coach blocking the deal. Demanding Florentino pull the plug. All so not to unsettle his No1 Keylor Navas. The president and his directors argued - nigh pleaded - with Zidane that Kepa would arrive as cover for Keylor, nothing more. The youngster's addition viewed as a long-term project. But Zizou refused to budge. With some later accusing the Frenchman of not so much seeking to protect Keylor, but his goalkeeper son Luca and his chances of a career with Real.

But no matter Zidane's motivation, his actions have benefited Chelsea far more than anyone connected to Real Madrid.

Today, Keylor has been sold to PSG. Luca shunted off to Racing Santander. And Courtois has become the Bernabeu boo-boys' favourite target. And in London? Chelsea now boast one of the best young shot-stoppers in the game. But even more significantly, particularly for Florentino, they also have Spain's No1.

And this, more than anything else, will be burning up the president. The symbolism cannot be underestimated. To have a deal in place for La Roja's next great keeper, only to be forced to rip it up due to his coach's opinion, will be gnawing away at Perez.

It's why he spent five years chasing the signature of David de Gea, the Manchester United No1. This despite the success and popularity of Keylor. It was a pursuit that baffled many. But those close to Florentino know how much weight he puts on the idea of Spain's biggest club having the nation's best keeper. Commercially, it's a no brainer. But in this case, the founder of the Galacticos sees beyond any earning potential. It's simply, for him, how it should be. The man who wears No1 for Spain should be the same who wears the No1 shirt for Real.

But today that's not the case. And making matters worse are the career trajectories of the two men in question.

As Kepa's form has surged, Courtois' displays have fallen - significantly. The nadir - for now - being midweek and the 2-2 draw with Champions League minnows Club Brugge. Jeered by his home fans, Courtois was forced from the field at halftime complaining of a dodgy belly and dizziness. But not before he'd conceded both of the visitors' goals. That his replacement, Alphonse Areola, kept a clean sheet and produced an early wonder save to keep things at 0-2, has not been missed by the local press. Nor would it have been by Courtois as he was driven out of the Estadio by his father.

The Belgian was later diagnosed with gastro and he's since lost three kilos. But sympathy is in short supply. The debate now being waged - why hadn't he alerted Zidane to his problems before kickoff.

In the meantime, Real are back at the Bernabeu this weekend to host Granada and there's push for Areola to keep his place, even if Courtois is fit to play. Not so much out of form between the pair, but more so to protect the Belgian from hometown harassment. Courtois' presence is now becoming a liability.

Indeed, as Frank Lampard, Chelsea's manager, has used Kepa's form to take risks with the introduction of rookie defenders, Courtois' situation has driven Zidane to do the opposite. The Real coach being forced to field a defensive line-up in recent games and discard an attacking system so to protect his keeper. Clean sheets were earned against Sevilla and Atlético Madrid, but the performances weren't in keeping with Zidane and Real Madrid.

But Zidane can have no complaints. He had his chance two January windows ago. And on a platter served up by his president. But what about today? Would Zidane swap Courtois for Kepa if now given the chance?


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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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