It seems to be a done deal. Thibaut Courtois‘ Chelsea career is coming to an end as he is supposed to jet off to Real Madrid on Thursday to complete the move. Maurizio Sarri has wasted no time in finding a replacement for the Belgian before his plane even lands, as Chelsea are set to sign Kepa Arrizabalaga for £71m, a world record for a goalkeeper. Mateo Kovacic is set to join on loan as part of the deal for Courtois to Madrid, in what looks like a win-win for Sarri as he brings in a second midfielder.
A player who went AWOL in Genk’s 2011 pre-season to force a move to Chelsea, Courtois has only gone and done it again. But, what Chelsea fans are more concerned about is whether their signing from Atheltic Bilbao is a downgrade from one of Europe’s finest ‘keepers. Our tactical analysis takes a look at the key statistics of the Spaniard and determines whether Kepa Arrizabalaga will be a good fit for the Premier League.
The Statistics Say Adaptability is Key for Kepa
The Premier League is often said to be a different world from other top European leagues. It’s tough, physical, with no place to hide for luxury players. Fortunately for Sarri and Chelsea, Arrizabalaga is a goalkeeper who was constantly in the thick of it last season, as the 24-year-old’s statistics below show.
The first thing that is clear, and quite important for goalkeepers admittedly, is that Courtois kept far more clean sheets. In total, Kepa kept six clean sheets in 26 games, compared to Courtois’ 16 in 35. But, a key difference between the two is the men in front of them, despite a rocky season Chelsea still have a far more solid defence than Bilbao, particularly after losing Aymeric Laporte to Manchester City.
Still, one man’s loss is another man’s gain and without their best defender, Arrizabalaga made sure he was the star player with the avalanche of shots heading his way. As we can see, the Spaniard averaged 3.08 saves per 90 compared. He will have to adapt to not being called upon so often, and keeping his focus for when he is needed, which if anything, is harder. That being said, if a shot-stopper is what Chelsea need this year, there are few better.
Another key part to our tactical analysis is how a player fits their potential league. An important part to the Premier League is how good a goalkeeper is with his feet, as Claudio Bravo found that out the hard way. This is another plus for Kepa, as he made more accurate long passes than any player in La Liga last season (368). With more passes, there is more room for error, as his distribution accuracy was 67% last season compared to Courtois’ 75%. So long as he manages to make those passes a little more pinpoint for this season, he should fit in just fine.
When compared to La Liga’s other top ‘keepers, that’s where his defence lets him down. So, while he is in the thick of the action the majority of the time, he still places seventh both overall and per 90, so it’s clear his skills need a bit of refining.
For those of you who didn’t keep up with Bilbao’s season last year (I imagine a fair few), you can find compilation after compilation of his flying, cat-like saves that if he repeats this year, will have Match of the Day pundits drooling on a weekly basis.
At the moment, our tactical analysis says Kepa Arrizabalaga isn’t quite at the level of Chelsea’s still current number one, but then again, few are. What our statistics say that Chelsea should be pleased about, is that they are signing a goalkeeper who has time on his side and already fits the Premier League. In time, he can undoubtedly equal Courtois’ level and maybe, become even better.