Chelsea

Will the Petr Cech-Thibaut Courtois Rivalry Have a Negative Impact on Chelsea?

ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS - JULY 30:  (L-R)  Didier Drogba, Thibaut Courtois and John Obi Mikel of Chelsea watch from the stands prior to the pre season friendly match between Vitesse Arnhem and Chelsea at the Gelredome Stadium on July 30, 2014 in Arnhem, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2014

The countdown to the new Premier League season continues, and among the big talking points coming out of Stamford Bridge right now is who will be Chelsea's No. 1 goalkeeper.

Thibaut Courtois has returned from a three-year loan deal with Atletico Madrid to challenge Petr Cech for supremacy, giving the latter his biggest test in the decade he has spent in West London.

Suddenly, Cech is no longer a guaranteed starter.

Jose Mourinho has a history of pitting his goalkeepers against each other. In his first spell as Chelsea manager, he spent the 2004 pre-season testing Carlo Cudicini and Cech, while at Real Madrid it became a battle between Iker Casillas and Diego Lopez.

It's no different with Cech and Courtois.

Among all the changes we have seen at Chelsea this summer, Mourinho made a valid point recently when Romelu Lukaku was sold to Everton for £28 million.

"He wanted to play for Chelsea, but clearly only as first-choice striker," he explained, per the Daily Mirror's Martin Lipton (h/t The Independent's Simon Rice). "And at a club of our dimension it's very difficult to promise a player that status."

ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS - JULY 30:  Goalkeeper, Petr Cech of Chelsea looks on during the pre season friendly match between Vitesse Arnhem and Chelsea at the Gelredome Stadium on July 30, 2014 in Arnhem, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Guaranteeing a goalkeeper that same automatic spot seems equally difficult these days. And so it should.

For all their strengths, Chelsea were too lightweight last season. They targeted some key areas in the January transfer window, yet they still had the look of a team that was incomplete.

When Cech was injured in the Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid, Mourinho would have lamented the fact a potentially key player for Chelsea was actually lining up in the opposition goal.

Instead of calling upon Courtois, it was the ageing, yet inexperienced, Mark Schwarzer who Mourinho had at his disposal.

The Australian is 41, but it wasn't until Chelsea faced Steaua Bucharest in their final group game of the Champions League last term that he made his debut in the competition.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: John Terry (R) and Gary Cahill of Chelsea watch the ball hit the crossbar as Mark Schwarzer of Chelsea stretches in vain during the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg match between Chelsea and Club Atletico de Madrid a
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

A few months later, he was suddenly the man expected to keep Atletico at bay in the semis. It was far from ideal.

There were other reasons, although Schwarzer's presence played a part in Chelsea failing to overcome Diego Simeone's side. He was edgy and unable to influence the game in the way Courtois did when he pulled off a magnificent save to deny John Terry in the second leg.

Had that header gone in, the tie would have had a different look to it. Chelsea would have been in control; instead they eventually lost 3-1.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Tiago of Club Atletico de Madrid consoles John Terry of Chelsea as Thibaut Courtois (L) looks on after the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg match between Chelsea and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stamford Bridge on Apri
Clive Rose/Getty Images

With Courtois finally making his debut in Chelsea colors after signing three years ago—albeit a pre-season friendly against Werder Bremen at the weekend—it's a considerable weight lifted for Mourinho.

Like his first spell, he now has two goalkeepers of significant quality vying for one spot.

Former Chelsea and England right-back Paul Parker doesn't see it as so beneficial, though.

Writing for Yahoo Sport this week, he said:

Mourinho has to get [the decision on his goalkeepers] right or he could be feeling the repercussions for some time.

[...]

Mourinho has left himself with a big, big problem. I’m sure there will be many a journalist sharpening their pen and waiting for the first game of the season to see who gets picked. All the TV cameras will be focused on the bench to see how the substitute likes it. I can guarantee one thing: they won’t be happy.

With a squad of 25 players, it will be more than unhappy goalkeepers testing Mourinho's resolve throughout the season.

The manager can't play Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Andre Schurrle and Mohamed Salah in attacking midfield every week. At right-back, one of Branislav Ivanovic or Cesar Azpilicueta will also be disappointed, not to mention the talent in central midfield.

All over the pitch there will be competition for places at Chelsea, and now Mourinho has the same with his goalkeepers.

ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS - JULY 30:  Goalkeeper, Petr Cech of Chelsea looks on during the pre season friendly match between Vitesse Arnhem and Chelsea at the Gelredome Stadium on July 30, 2014 in Arnhem, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Unlike Lukaku, Cech isn't the type of character who will make demands of Mourinho, either. He has shown in pre-season he is determined to keep hold of his shirt by performing and not living off his reputation.

The challenge for Courtois is that he does the same. Should he fall in line, the Belgian will become a better goalkeeper, and the sole beneficiaries will be Chelsea.

Cliches are often used because they carry more than an element of truth.

You can never have too many quality players, or so they say. Right now, Mourinho is realizing that himself.

 

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes

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