At nearly every position, Roman Abramovich has provided Jose Mourinho with multiple world-class options from which to choose. The Portuguese manager has been tasked to select the best of each and win Chelsea commensurate silverware.
With the Premier League season starting next Saturday, Mourinho will become a boxing promoter of sorts—pitting and evaluating his players against each other in friendlies and training, attempting to find the strongest links.
After the Blues' transfer window, there are three bouts of worthy distinction:
|The Main Event: GK||Petr Cech||vs.||Thibaut Courtois||9 August|
|Undercard No. 2: RW/RAM||Andre Schurrle||vs.||Willian||8 August|
|Undercard No. 1: RB||Branislav Ivanovic||vs.||Cesar Azpilicueta||7 August|
From 7-9 August, we will break down each positional competition and lend an opinion for which player should make Mourinho's first-choice starting XI.
The Main Event: Petr Cech vs. Thibaut Courtois
Muhammad Ali is arguably the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time; even if not considered that by technical evaluation, Ali is certainly the greatest in the hearts and minds of most boxing enthusiasts.
At the end of his illustrious career, circa 1980, Ali's deterioration was apparent. An accumulation of punches over 20-plus years—added with lost power and mobility—left a shell of the 22-year-old who "shook up the world" vs. Sonny Liston in 1964.
Considering his subsequent bout with ill-health later in life, one wishes they could go back in time and tell Ali after 1975's "Thrilla in Manila" vs. Joe Frazier to hang up his gloves; but great athletes never think they are finished, so they usually have a hard time stepping down.
Chelsea are in a similar predicament concerning their goalkeepers.
Do they ask their first-choice goalkeeper for the past decade to take a reduced role or do they continue allowing him to play regardless of the potential consequences?
The 2013-14 PFA awards proved mainstay Petr Cech is still atop his game. Recognised as the best No. 1 in the Premier League last season, the Czech international's position between Stamford Bridge's goalposts should be an unquestioned certainly, but—through no fault of Cech—Mourinho is at a crossroads.
Thibaut Courtois has shown himself to be worthy of playing first-team football. After three years on loan at Atletico Madrid, the Belgian has blossomed into the world's best under-23 goalkeeper. Possessing length, quick reflexes and an eye for danger, Courtois has all the qualities to be Chelsea's first-choice shot-stopper—but Cech does as well.
As exemplified by Mark Schwarzer, 41, goalkeepers' life spans are more reptilian than mammalian; they can play at high levels until their late 30s and early 40s. Mourinho must evaluate whether he can sacrifice the obvious future to indulge nostalgia for another next season.
It would be an elephantine gamble to choose Cech, if only for the possible mental ramifications on Courtois.
The Belgian's national teammates Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne have already succumbed to the waiting period it takes to be an automatic Chelsea first teamer; losing Courtois—whether mentally or physically—would be judged a devastating body blow to the Blues' future success.
Whether Chelsea's goalkeepers can coexist should be explored.
Cech, per Sky Sports' Jure Bohoric, insists he has no intention of leaving, Mourinho has voiced his love of the current squad, and Courtois, via the Daily Mail's Oliver Todd, has said he wishes to learn from the experience above him.
At the moment, it would seem one big, happy family; but the bench has a way of causing divorce.
An ideal outcome for 12 months of marriage would be Courtois playing the Premier League and Cech taking care of major cup competitions.
No footballer is infallible, not even goalkeepers. Schwarzer may be a great No. 2, but the ability to prepare Cech or Courtois—depending on injury, refereeing decisions or general form—is an enormous advantage for Chelsea.
Mourinho, who is known to be an expert tactician, must put every ounce of man management he has into solving this equation.
Making an ambitious youngster or an entitled veteran feel valuable, while simultaneously telling them they will be benched on a given matchday, is a tricky balance—one Mourinho has done before, and hopefully one he can do again.
Should the ideal scenario of coexisting be out of the question, however, the solution is rather simple. Mourinho would look at the ages of his two 'keepers (Courtois, 22 | Cech, 32) and opt for the youngest.
Cech has been the consummate professional in west London—appearing more than 470 times in a Chelsea kit, with 161 Premier League clean sheets—but sacrificing the next decade of goalkeeping security for at best three seasons of declining stock seems obtuse.
Blues supporters would not enjoy seeing their helmeted goalkeeper removed from his Stamford Bridge post, but as 18th-century French aristocrat Marquis de Sade once penned: "It is only by way of pain one arrives at pleasure."
Clearly the Marquis was a football fan.
Result: Thibaut Courtois wins by unanimous decision
Undercard No. 1: Branislav Ivanovic vs. Cesar Azpilicueta
Undercard No. 2: Andre Schurrle vs. Willian