Pitchside

Chelsea MUST replace Cech with Courtois for next season

Pitchside

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Ahead of the Champions League final, Thibaut Courtois has been talking about his Chelsea future.

The young Belgian is at the end of his loan contract with Atletico Madrid and, despite his superlative form for the La Liga side, there are still no guarantees over his long-term future at Stamford Bridge.

Courtois has made it very clear that he's unwilling to share pitch-time with Petr Cech, and to a certain extent he's forcing his parent club to make a difficult decision.

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Cech remains a very good goalkeeper, maybe not the elite player that he once was, but very good nonetheless. In the absence of Courtois, Chelsea could perhaps rely on their existing number one to provide them with two, three or maybe even four more years of solid goalkeeping.

Cech may be in gentle decline and a fragility may have crept into his game over the past five years, but he is still an adequate option for a side with Chelsea's ambition.

Football does not reward sentimentality, though, and the reality of this situation is that Courtois is not only at least Cech's equal, but that he's arguably already a better player.Additionally, at twenty-two, he offers Chelsea over a decade of high-quality goalkeeping that will run long beyond Cech's retirement.

Goalkeepers tend to reach their prime later than outfield players, and so to have someone who is already so advanced at such a young age is a rare luxury - and it's one Chelsea shouldn't ignore.

Cech may well be associated with an era of decadent success, but clubs should never allow players to trade off the past and ruthlessness is a necessary evil in maintaining such success.

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Ironically, Courtois' physical attributes are almost identical to those which marked Cech out before he moved to England. The Belgian is a perfect blend of height, general presence, and agility, and in that regard he's perfect for a Premier League environment.

Over the last two seasons, he's acquired the experience to hone his decision-making, too, and a feature of his game now is how secure he looks under high-balls and from general crossing situations. As a goalkeeper, he is the complete package.

It's important now that, having excelled for Atletico, Courtois is transitioned into the English game as soon as possible. When keepers enter the Premier League - irrespective of their ability - there is a learning curve.

The game is more physical here and the style of play requires a goalkeeper to operate in more congested six-yard boxes with less protection from referees. As we saw with David de Gea after he moved to Manchester United, those who have built their reputation in La Liga do require an acclimatisation period.

Courtois is a better player than De Gea was when he arrived and his body shape is also more developed; nevertheless, it must be remembered that the longer a goalkeeper plays outside of the Premier League, the harder it probably becomes for him to adjust to it - needless to say, the sooner Courtois is wearing a Chelsea shirt, the sooner he'll be an asset within it.

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In a perfect world, Chelsea would bring Courtois back, move him to an English club on-loan, and extract the last few years from Petr Cech. But this is a player who is about to start a Champions League final and who has a La Liga winner's medal to his name.

He's not going to spend a year or two playing for a mid-level Premier League team - it's not realistic. He's either going to want to start for Chelsea now or move away permanently. And he's earnt the right to that.

Jose Mourinho's squad is in a transitional stage. The Portuguese will remodel his forward line this Summer, has already installed Nemanja Matic as his long-term holding player, and has Kurt Zouma joining the club before next season.

David Luiz is likely to be sold this summer, John Terry has one of two years of career left at the most, and Branislav Ivanovic turned 30 in February; there are going to be a lot of changes to the defensive personnel in South-West London and why not include Courtois in that evolution? The strongest defences tend to be those who play together over a long period of time, so why not begin building that chemistry now?

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Statistically, Courtois comes out on top in every single category except punches.

This feels like a hard decision for Chelsea, but it's really not: successful teams don't wait until key players are past their prime before replacing them, they pre-empt that slump and make the change before it happens.

That's the luxury they have with Courtois and Cech. Emotionally it may feel premature, but logically it's a no-brainer: play him now, or watch him excel for a rival for the next fifteen years whilst Cech is doing punditry work and coaching.

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