There is very little Thomas Tuchel can do at this moment in time but wait. Until the club is sold by Roman Abramovich and free of sanctions placed upon the Russian by the UK government, Chelsea can’t plan in earnest for the summer transfer window. And that will leave them playing catch up, something the Blues head coach has admitted.
“We would have some targets and we would have for sure contacted some players and found out about their situations,” the German coach explained last week. “Of course, now our hands are tied. We can still have the talks inside the building, but we cannot act. The situation is not ideal.
“It would be challenging enough with a stable situation. We don’t have that and we try to show our commitment, our passion, and this is maybe very important for me to give this message: I’m committed, I’m looking forward to it, and I’m passionate about it. And as soon as we can act, we will try to act and turn things around and make it from a disadvantage to maybe an advantage.
“I don’t have the solution right now, but we will try to stay positive about it. I also don’t think it’s possible a new owner comes in and says, ‘here go wild, here is £250million, go spend it’. There is still faith in the people who take care of it from our side and we try to be prepared behind the scenes so that if we get a green light to act that we are ready and share our views on the team.”
There will likely be much work to be done once the green light is given. Chelsea will need to improve their defence with Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger set to walk away at the end of the campaign. Cesar Azpilicueta, despite triggering a one-year extension in his contract, may also depart after 10 years of service.
Uncertainty rules too over the futures of two key midfielders – N’Golo Kante and Jorginho – while difficult decisions await several members of Tuchel’s attack. We will get to those in the days ahead, however. Today, our focus is on the Chelsea goalkeepers, a current position of strength.
In Edouard Mendy, the Blues’ have a reliable No.1. The Senegal international hasn’t quite reached the impressively high level achieved during the second half of last season under Tuchel, but he has displayed regularly this term that there are few better shot-stoppers in the European game.
There is perhaps a slight concern about Mendy’s short-passing game – and his mistake against Real Madrid in the Champions League showcased why – but there’s very little need for Chelsea to invest in a top-level goalkeeper, especially as they will not have an unlimited pot. The 30-year-old, who was identified by Petr Cech when at Rennes, is more than good enough.
What happens behind Mendy is far more intriguing. Kepa Arrizabalaga is currently the second choice stopper and over the last 18 months has managed to rebuild his reputation that was shattered during Frank Lampard’s tenure. This season, the Spaniard has made 13 starts across all competitions and kept six clean sheets. He also helped the Blues win the UEFA Super Cup in August after coming off the bench for the penalty shootout.
Yet for the world’s most expensive goalkeeper – and a player earning £190,000-per-week – that is simply not enough. It’s why Tuchel has already stated that an open conversation is required with the 27-year-old once the current campaign draws to a close and the takeover is completed.
“We need to ask him, and we need to be honest with him. And he needs to be honest with us, this is the most important,” the Chelsea head coach said last month. “He is still our player, and we don’t know about the situation with the ownership, what is possible and what is not. So first of all, he is our player and he is a fantastic guy to deal with this kind of situation [being second choice], which is not easy for him.
“There is never a 100% reason to go against Kepa because he deserves it – and we trust him. But this is such an obvious decision when you go for somebody [in goal] that you can’t play the other person because there is no other position than goalkeeper. I think it will influence, of course, his feeling about it and how he sees it.
“We need to be honest first of all [with Kepa], and he has to stay fully involved like he is. Then he has to be open with us. For me, nothing needs to change as I like him a lot, and we need strong goalkeepers because it’s a crucial position. But we need to reflect on it in the summer.”
It’s understood Juventus are keeping tabs on Kepa with regard to a loan move while Maurizio Sarri remains open to the idea of reuniting with the goalkeeper at Lazio, although a switch to the Italian capital would require the goalkeeper to take a significant pay cut and the Blues to accept a significant loss on the Spanish international, who they signed from Athletic Club for £71.6million in 2018.
football.london has been told of background interest from Barcelona but nothing is truly expected to come from that unless a sizeable bid is received for their first-choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The German is one of Barcelona’s highest earners and the La Liga giants need to reduce their wage bill again this summer.
If Kepa did depart Stamford Bridge, a replacement would be required. And it’s never a simple task to bring in a deputy goalkeeper of the requisite quality required for Chelsea. Of course, Marcus Bettinelli would still be at the club having signed a two-year contract last summer but the 29-year-old, who has made one appearance this season, isn’t expected to be moved up in the pecking order.
Sam Johnstone, West Bromwich Albion’s No.1 for the majority of this season and an England international, was linked with the Blues earlier in the campaign, but football.london understands Tottenham have pushed to the head of the queue and are now favourites to secure the 29-year-old on a free transfer.
A potential in-club option would be Nathan Baxter. The 23-year-old is coming to the end of a season-long loan spell at Hull City, for whom he has kept seven clean sheets in 15 Championship appearances. The loan is Baxter’s seventh away from Chelsea and there are those within the club who believe he has positioned himself well to take up the No.2 spot next season if Kepa moves on.
And the academy graduate harbours ambitions of playing for the Blues’ first team. “From my point of view, I believe I’m good enough to play for Chelsea and that’s still my goal,” Baxter told The League of 72. “If I went to an Accrington or a Yeovil on loan and didn’t perform, then there would be no way that I could have progressed each year and stepped up a league each year and even dream of playing for Chelsea.
“Although that is my end goal and I’ll never be afraid of saying that’s what I want to do and I believe that I will do it, I believe that I can do it.”