One of the only Chelsea players to have emerged from the trauma of the 2010/11 season with his reputation intact was Petr Cech, who put in a full season's worth of superb work between the sticks. Obviously, this was fantastic for Chelsea, because without the big man stopping far more shots than he had any right to (as well as regaining his command of the box on crosses), there's a good chance that Chelsea drop behind Manchester City and finish third last year, which would have been a little bit upsetting.
On the other hand, Cech's wonderful season has rather overshadowed the issues Chelsea have with their goalkeeping depth. Henrique Hilario is... well, he's a backup, and Ross Turnbull is a slightly less competent backup. Neither is starting quality for a team of Chelsea's calibre, and one of the two will almost certainly have to step in at some point this season. Cech's only played in all 38 games in a Premier League season once - last year - so we can't expect a repeat. We will see Hilario and/or Turnbull at some point, presumably in a game we care about.
Of course, there's Thibaut Courtois as well. The 19-year-old has been signed and immediately sent packing to Atletico Madrid, where he'll start in place of David de Gea, Manchester United's new starting goalkeeper. If Cech goes down for a long period of time, could Courtois be recalled? The answer is that we don't know - scouring of the internet has revealed exactly no details of the loan agreement with Atletico. I'm going to guess that there'll be no facility for a 24-hour recall*, but I'd be surprised if there wasn't a recall option built in for at least the January transfer window.
*These are great for the loaning club but terrible for the loanees, especially if they get a starter yanked from their team without any notice.
But to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if that even matters. Why? Because backup goalkeeper is simply not a place we need to be focusing resources right now. Or ever. Observe:
- Manchester United: Tomas Kuszczak, Anders Lindegaard, Ben Amos.
Arsenal: Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Almunia.
Liverpool: Doni, Brad Jones.
- Manchester City: Stuart Taylor, Gunnar Nielson.
That's not exactly an awe-inspiring collection of names from our closest competitors, is it? None of the goalkeepers on any of the top clubs' benches, with the possible exception of Doni, are capable of acting as a full-time starter for a good team in this league. That's why they're backups! There's very little point spending money or resources finding a good backup goalkeeper, because they very rarely get to play. Yes, they're nice to have if your first-choice keeper goes down with a bad injury, but it's impossible to keep the best goalies on the bench for very long. Unlike outfield players, they can't really be kept fresh by being subbed in, and if they don't get to play they'll agitate for a move (see the Shay Given/Joe Hart experiment for more details).
So, ultimately, I'm happy with the goalkeeping situation, as strange as that may sound. Recall clause or no for Courtois, Andre Villas-Boas appears to have an adequate stable of bodies to pull from if Cech is forced to miss any time. The fact that the backups at his disposal look woefully incompetent sometimes comes with the territory - and is Hilario really much worse than, say Kuszczak over three games? (Answer: No.) If any of the best teams' goalkeepers went down, they'd be in deep trouble. Why would that be any different with Chelsea?
PS: Who the heck is Brad Jones?