Premier League • England

Chelsea outcast is strongest link as former boss firms up transfer shortlist

Samuel Bannister
Marcos Alonso, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Cesar Azpilicueta at Chelsea training

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is one of the strongest names on Maurizio Sarri’s list to strengthen between the Lazio sticks, although there are alternatives, according to reports.

Kepa has suffered a fall from grace since his move from Athletic Bilbao to Chelsea in 2018. Becoming the world’s most expensive goalkeeper at the time, he has not justified his value since.

The Spaniard is no longer Chelsea’s number one after they signed Edouard Mendy last summer. Mendy has exceeded expectations, proving himself as one of the best keepers in the Premier League.

As such, Kepa made only six starts in the Premier League last season. This time around, he has only managed one so far.

At the age of 27, he should be at his peak, or at least approaching it. But he is not getting the gametime to prove it. Therefore, the idea of a transfer away has long been speculated.

Chelsea will obviously struggle to recoup anywhere near the £72m they spent to sign him. They will have to be clever to ensure they get a good deal when offloading him.

One club that looks likely to give them something to consider is Lazio. Coached by ex-Blues boss Sarri – who once clashed with Kepa in a famous incident that has now been brushed under the carpet – the Serie A side are looking for a new number one.

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Chelsea need help in the midfield, while their hopes of signing De Ligt have drastically improved.

The responsibilities in Rome have been shared between Pepe Reina and Thomas Strakosha in recent weeks. The latter lost his place as first choice to the ex-Liverpool veteran in the first months of the season, but has since been restored.

Nevertheless, Sarri is looking for someone he can rely on. According to Sport, he has identified Kepa as the man to tick the box.

Kepa played in 54 matches under Sarri for Chelsea, keeping 23 clean sheets and conceding 51 goals. Now, they could reunite in the Italian capital.

Sarri shortlists Kepa alternatives for Lazio

Maurizio Sarri, Lazio manager September 2021

However, Sport also suggest that Napoli’s Alex Meret and Porto’s Diogo Costa are options for Lazio.

Still, Kepa is one of the strongest links. It remains to be seen on what terms a deal would go through, but Football Italia predict it would be a loan.

Kepa remains under contract at Stamford Bridge until 2025. He has made 114 appearances for the club to date.

The only countries he has ever played club football in are Spain and England. But he could soon be adding Italy to that list.

Chelsea would then have to work out how to replace him as Mendy’s deputy. They also have Marcus Bettinelli as a third-choice.

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Likely Rudiger outcome revealed for Chelsea

Meanwhile, Chelsea are also trying to secure the future of one of their most important outfield players, defender Antonio Rudiger.

The German centre-half has been the one constant in Chelsea’s rearguard this season. While the likes of Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta have been rotated in and out, Rudiger has remained a near ever-present.

However, he, along with the aforementioned centre-backs, are all out of contract next summer.

Chelsea are believed to be keen on extending the stays of each of the quartet. However, Azpilicueta is a target for Barcelona, and bitter rivals Real Madrid want Rudiger.

Of the four, it is Rudiger who appears the most likely to leave. According to the latest from ESPN, that is the exact scenario that could be etched in stone next month.

Citing Sport Italia, they reveal Real will ‘intensify’ talks with Rudiger and his camp ‘over the next few weeks’.

On their agenda is the signing of a pre-contract agreement. Rudiger will be able to sign such a document come January 1.

If he puts pen to paper, Rudiger will then join Real as a free agent next summer. German newspaper Bild recently stated Real was Rudiger’s preferred destination if he leaves.

Antonio Rudiger warms up for Chelsea ahead of Premier League game at Stamford Bridge

PSG believe they still have a chance at disrupting Real’s move.

Manchester United and Tottenham are also in the mix, with Spurs supremo Daniel Levy hopeful the Antonio Conte-Fabio Paratici combination can convince Rudiger to remain in London.

However, Rudiger is ‘unlikely’ to remain in London, or England for that matter.

He was reported to have treated Chelsea’s most recent contract offer as a ‘slap in the face’ last month. Their efforts since then have not borne fruit. It now appears Rudiger is destined to sign for Real.

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