After arriving as the emergency replacement for Thibaut Courtois who had suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season had even begun, Kepa Arrizabalaga walked into the starting job at Real Madrid and would go on to start thirteen in a row in all competitions ... before suffering a relatively minor adductor injury himself in early November.
Ironically, by the time Kepa returned from his injury a month later, he had lost his spot to backup Andriy Lunin. Manager Carlo Ancelotti had been reluctant to trust the 24-year-old Ukraine international before — thus the loan deal with Chelsea — but has been impressed enough to open up the job to a competition between his two goalkeepers. And there can only be one winner.
“I don’t have the idea of rotating in goal, both of them are doing very well. Lunin has progressed a lot, he has shown a lot of confidence when he has played. And Kepa has maintained his level. When Kepa has returned, I would like to reward both of them. Tomorrow Kepa plays and then I will choose one of the two.”
-Carlo Ancelotti; source: Diario AS via Google Translate
That was Ancelotti before last Thursday’s 1-0 win over Alavés, which was their final game before the winter break. Kepa got the token start and the clean sheet to put Real top of the pile, but now faces a fight for his future.
With Courtois back for next season, and presumably back to being a starter, Kepa’s window of opportunity to truly close his Chelsea chapter (and vice-versa) may be ending sooner rather than later. Kepa’s contract with us expires in 2025, just as Lunin’s current contract with Real Madrid.
Things could get messy if Kepa cannot secure a long-term deal in Madrid. Robert Sánchez may not be perfect, but his shortcomings at least don’t manifest themselves in a very literal manner. And Đorđe Petrović has made an excellent first impression while we also have fellow MLS-er Gaga Slonina waiting in the wings.