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Chelsea

Where does Courtois rate amongst the World’s best keepers?

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Last Thursday, Thibaut Courtois followed Cesar Azpilicueta by signing a new long term contract at Chelsea to cap off what really has been a successful summer for the West London side. The Belgian’s signature on the five year contract seems to secure his spot between the sticks for Chelsea for this season and many beyond, spelling the end for Petr Cech’s reign as Chelsea number one and arguably number one in the league.

Courtois really made a claim to being one the best keepers in the world whilst being on loan at Atletico Madrid for the last three seasons, especially last season as the neutral’s favourites went on to win their first La Liga in 18 years. Since his loan move back in 2011 no keeper has kept more league clean sheets in Europe’s top 5 leagues than the 22 year old, 56, 21 of which are since the beginning of last season, 5 more than Cech and Hugo Lloris.

Back in 2004 Cech also made his debut for Chelsea as a 22 year old, he came to Chelsea as an understudy to Carlo Cudicini, who at the time was the best keeper in the league, however, an injury for the Italian gave Cech the opportunity to make his mark and he did just that keeping a clean sheet on his debut against Manchester United. Cech has gone on to be number one for nine years and at the age of 31 he still is one of the best keepers in the world but where do he and his Belgian team mate rank amongst the best in the world?

When I was growing up there was an abundance of world class keepers around, in the Premiership there was Seaman and Schmeichel and in Europe, Buffon, Casillas, Kahn and the likes of Canizares, Peruzzi, Toldo, Van Der Sar and Chilvaret were underrated, even Barthez was fantastic.

However, now the competition is not so fierce, there must be some honourable mentions but there can only be a top 5. Casillas isn’t the man he once was, maybe down to confidence and at only 31 he still has plenty to offer but there have been too many high profile mistakes from the man who made his Madrid debut at just 16. Victor Valdes is highly underrated because of the lack of action he got in that glorious Barcelona team, but his concentration and his ability in a one on one situation can’t be matched, would a massive coup if Liverpool were to sign him. Samir Handanovic, again underrated but most likely because he is Slovenian and is playing for a poor Inter side, however this should not deter from the supreme agility the 6,5” man holds. David De Gea is forever improving and after a shaky start to his United career with confidence he now looks truly like a United player.

Ok so the top 5,

5) Petr Cech

A man laden with records, accolades and achievements he is a model goalkeeper whose main asset is his consistency. Has great concentration and is an authoritative figure instilling confidence in his defence. He overcame that skull fracture in 2006 to return just as good and still as brave. There has been a slight decline in the past two seasons but from very dizzy heights so is still one of the very best around.

4) Hugo Llrois

The France national team captain joined North London side Tottenham on transfer deadline day in 2012 for a bargain £12million. The 27 year old is truly a sweeper keeper who reads the game well to spot danger and has lightning reflexes to match becoming truly formidable in one on one situations. He recently signed a new 5 year deal with Spurs and is symbol of their ambition as Llrois is really someone who can light up the Champions League stage.

3) Gianluigi Buffon 

The World’s most expensive goalkeeper when he signed for Juventus from Parma back in 2001 but they certainly got their monies worth. The 2006 World Cup winner has hardly any weaknesses to his game and is rated highly amongst Italian with most saying he is even greater than the legend Dino Zoff. Injuries have started to hamper the 36 year old but he continues to be an outstanding shot stopper and commander of his area.

2) Thibaut Courtois

Tremendously confident, especially for his age, his long reach means he comes out for crosses and absolutely dominates his box, a defenders dream. Has a huge future ahead being only 22 and could well go on to be one of the best ever. His save one on one against David Nugent this season already proof to Chelsea fans what a special talent they have and already a La Liga champion and Champions League runner up no wonder he is so confident.

1) Manuel Neuer    

He is the undisputed number one in the world, it surely cannot be argued against and the World Cup winner is supreme in every attribute. He has truly brought sweeper keeper back, his footwork and his reading of the game make him an 11th outfield player. Yet his other skills must not be played down, he has very quick reflexes resulting in excellent shot stopping, he commands his area likes all the best keepers and his distribution is without equal. A perfect Guardiola keeper he is redefining the goalkeeper role and he is the man all goalkeepers must look up to and try and aspire to.

Tottenham fan and wannabe wordsmith who just enjoys writing about his club and all other aspects of our wonderful game.

Chelsea

Chelsea 0-0 Leicester City: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech

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Chelsea
Photo: Reuters

Chelsea remain winless in 2018 after Antonio Conte’s misfiring charges recorded their third successive goalless draw.

Despite having a numerical advantage for the final 20 minutes following Ben Chilwell’s red card, the Blues could not find a winning goal against a Leicester City side that enjoyed prolonged spells of dominance.

Chelsea have now played more than 270 minutes of football in all competitions without scoring and have dropped to fourth place in the Premier League table as a result of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City. Leicester remain eighth and continue their good form since Claude Puel’s appointment as manager.

Here are three talking points…

Chelsea’s goal scoring problems are mounting

Much has been written about Alvaro Morata’s goalscoring drought, which extended to five matches after he failed to register a single effort in this clash, but Chelsea’s goalscoring issues go much deeper.

Since the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on January 3, the Blues have failed to find the back of the net. None of the top six clubs have scored fewer than Chelsea’s current tally of 41 Premier League goals for the season.

There is no doubt the burden has rested heavily on Morata and when he was in fine form during the first few months of the campaign, Chelsea were often rampant. But the Spaniard’s barren spell has coincided with a downturn in the Blues’ effectiveness.

The problem for Conte is he has little faith in back-up striker Michy Batshuayi. There is no other obvious candidate to act as the focal point, although the Italian has previously experimented with a false number nine.

Defensively, Chelsea are very solid, but that counts for little when they fail to score.

Leicester grab a point despite Chilwell’s red

It’s not often a player receives two yellow cards in a matter of minutes, but that’s exactly the fate that befell Leicester’s Ben Chilwell.

After being cautioned for a foul on Willian, the Leicester man then received a second booking only five minutes later for bringing down Victor Moses.

Both fouls were fairly innocuous and Chilwell’s dismissal disrupted the Foxes’ performance, which had threatened to claim all three points at Stamford Bridge.

Leicester boss Puel was critical of Mike Jones’ decision to send off Chilwell, which may have come under more scrutiny had Chelsea gone on to win the game.

As it was, the visitors held out for a point, which was the least they deserved. Jamie Vardy twice went close to breaking the deadlock and Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois had to be alert throughout.

This was definitely not a rearguard display – Leicester created numerous chances and were keen to take the game to their high-flying opponents.

Tiredness to blame – Conte

Chelsea boss Conte blamed tiredness for his side’s failure to win for the fourth game in a row. This fixture came just three days after their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal, amid a run of seven games in 21 days.

The Blues return to action again against Norwich City for an FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday night. In total, Chelsea will play eight games in January after playing nine in December.

There’s no doubt it is a punishing schedule, but Chelsea are not alone in that regard. A club with their squad depth should be able to cope. Conte has rotated his squad, particularly for the cup games, and is sure to field a much-changed side for the Norwich replay.

Of course, if the Blues were winning matches there would be no need to raise the fatigue element as an excuse.

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Champions League

Are Chelsea potential 2017/18 Champions League winners?

Rob Meech

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Antonio Conte will be looking to emulate his Italian counterpart Roberto di Matteo, by leading Chelsea to Champions League glory this season. The Blues’ champagne moment six years ago was the realisation of a dream Roman Abramovich had held since he gained ownership of the club in 2003.

Chelsea are the reigning Premier League champions, having claimed the title in Conte’s first campaign in charge. But the former Italy boss’s honeymoon period is now over, amid a run of mixed results and speculation of player unrest. Here, The Boot Room assesses Chelsea’s prospects of lifting the Champions League for a second time.

Performances so far

The Blues were in the same group as both Atletico Madrid and Roma – as well as minnows Qarabag – and they finished level on points with the Italian club at the top of the standings. The highlight was a 2-1 victory away to Atletico, courtesy of a stoppage-time winner from Michy Batshuayi. A routine double was completed over Qarabag, but it was their results against Roma that shaped the final standings.

Even though both clubs ended on 11 points to qualify for the last 16 and Chelsea had a vastly superior goal difference, the Blues could only follow up their 3-0 defeat in the Italian capital with a 3-3 draw at home. This proved costly, with Conte’s side finishing second and being drawn against Barcelona, which has significantly dented their chances of making it into the quarter-finals.

Squad strength

Chelsea captured the Premier League at a canter last season, thanks largely to the goals of Diego Costa and the brilliance of Eden Hazard. Despite the summer arrival of Alvaro Morata, Costa’s departure has been a big loss. Surprisingly, Nemanja Matic was permitted to join Manchester United, while David Luiz has fallen out of favour under Conte.

Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko have added depth to the squad, while the rise to prominence of Andreas Christensen has been an unexpected bonus. Ross Barkley is the first of their signings in the January window and perhaps more will follow. Most important is proper competition for the misfiring Morata, with Chelsea currently lacking a cutting edge in tight games.

Manager

A three-time winner of Serie A with Juventus (to go alongside last season’s Premier League crown), Conte is without doubt a manager of immense repute. After Jose Mourinho’s reign had turned sour, the 48-year-old was the perfect successor. He revitalised Chelsea and turned them into champions after adopting a 3-4-3 formation that proved to be a masterstroke.

Conte has a unique style of management. His demonstrable shows of passion are loved by supporters, but his intensity has sparked rumours that he is not universally liked by his players. Costa fell foul of his wrath last summer, while Brazilian centre-back Luiz is the latest to be marginalised. Conte’s public clashes with his superiors over failed transfer targets have increased the tension.

Chances of winning

When Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, they had to beat Barcelona over two legs in the semi-finals. If they want to lift the prestigious trophy again this year, it’s a feat they will need to repeat. Although the Blues are more than capable of competing with the very best in Europe, they would much rather have avoided opponents of Barcelona’s class at this stage.

Chelsea only have themselves to blame for not topping Group C, which would likely have given them a smoother passage to the last eight. Barcelona, the runaway La Liga leaders, are by no means unbeatable, but they will be the favourites to progress and Chelsea will need to be at their very best over both games to stop them.

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Chelsea

Why Andreas Christensen is the future of Chelsea’s defence

Jake Jackman

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Christensen
Photo: Reuters

Andreas Christensen has been rewarded for his great form this season with a new contract at Chelsea and it looks like he is a player who the Blues want to build around for the future. The Danish international has been one of the breakthrough stars of the Premier League campaign and he is proof that there is value to the loan system used at Stamford Bridge.

It has long been criticised as the club have stockpiled talent and few have made it to the first-team. However, Antonio Conte has opened the door to those that have spent time out on loan and breaking into the first eleven is now a realistic aim.

It was a surprise when Victor Moses was given a prominent role last season, but he was the success story that gave hope to the likes of Christensen. At the beginning of this campaign, there was hope that the defender would follow in the wing-back’s footsteps, but he was initially behind David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger in the pecking order.

The 21-year-old knew that he would have to work hard to earn a regular starting spot at Stamford Bridge and he has done just that. He has looked every inch a top-six player when he has played and is now seen as part of the club’s first eleven.

Christensen has made 23 appearances this season and it was crucial that the club secured his future at the earliest opportunity. His recent four-and-a-half-year contract is justified.

BBC Sport report the following quotes from him:

“I’m just happy to be committed to Chelsea for the future. I’m enjoying it at the club and everything is working well”

Christensen has had a rapid rise to the top of the sport. The defender is already a first-team regular for a Champions League team at the age of 21. The Danish international had an excellent two years on loan with Borussia Monchengladbach.

Although the system can be abused, it can be a useful aid in developing a player if used correctly. Chelsea haven’t always been great at this, but they got it right with their talented centre-back.

At the age of 19, Christensen had a lot of potential and had already made his first-team debut at Stamford Bridge. However, he was raw and not ready to take up a prominent role in the squad.

He could have stayed around to offer competition, but the decision was taken to send him out on loan. There would have been a lot of interest in him given the hype around him at the time. Chelsea opted for the Bundesliga and Monchengladbach.

This was seen as a good standard and the league has a great reputation for developing young players. Clubs in Germany are more willing to give opportunities to those in the infancy of their careers and that is why more and more young English players are going there.

Monchengladbach immediately gave Christensen a regular starting place and he developed quickly. By the end of his first season, he was regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the division and there were Chelsea fans clamouring for his return.

The loan agreement couldn’t be broken and in hindsight, that was positive for Christensen. One problem with the loan system is that players don’t get to fully settle at a club as they know their stay is going to be a temporary one.

The defender knew that he would be at Monchengladbach for two years and that was certainly a good thing. If it is the right marriage between club and player, there is a lot to gain from a two-year loan.

During his time in Germany, Christensen played regularly in the Bundesliga and got to test himself in European competition. Considering he was planning his long-term future with Chelsea, it was important that he got used to playing a European schedule and Monchengladbach provided that.

These comments to Sky Sports show how crucial the defender thinks the loan experience was for him:

“For me personally, it was the two biggest years of my career. If it went badly I might not be here now, but because it did I am here, feeling confident and in a good spot,”

“The experience of playing in the Champions League and at the top level for two years every week helped me a lot.

“Both for the club and for me personally, the plan was always to come back into the first team.”

Sometimes a player can be loaned out as the parent club don’t know what to do with him and his career is put on the backburner. Christensen suggests that Chelsea mapped out his career path and told him exactly what he needed to do to break into the first-team.

The Blues deserve credit for that, as they gave the player a clear directive and he made sure he achieved the necessary progress while out on loan.

This season has been a breakthrough for Christensen as he has replaced David Luiz in the heart of Chelsea’s defence. That is a huge show of faith from Antonio Conte as he has taken the place of a £50 million signing and he has been full value for his spot in the team.

The 21-year-old’s greatest strength is his ability on the ball, as he has a pass success rate of 93.9% in the Premier League. In a three-man defence, it is important to have a player willing to carry the ball into midfield and the Danish international is the best in the squad at that.

David Luiz has frequently been praised for his ability on the ball, but he can be careless in possession and make costly errors that lead to goals. Despite his age, Christensen can be relied on not to do that and he has grown into his role with every game.

In addition to his quality on the ball, the young defender can compete physically as shown by his average of two successful aerial duels per game. That was a weakness of his game during his teenage years, but his loan spell allowed him to develop his skills and he is now ready for the rough and bustle of the Premier League.

Christensen isn’t an aggressive defender and he prefers to use his intelligence rather than his physicality to regain possession. He is currently averaging 2.5 ball recoveries and 3.6 clearances per game.

The Danish international is a good reader of the game and complements the rest of the defence well. There is a long way to go until he fulfils his potential, but he is on the right track and set to become a mainstay of the Chelsea team for years to come.

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