Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea eye up Kepa as Courtois' successor in record £71m swoop

 

By Samuel Lovett

Chelsea are ready to sign Athletic Bilbao's Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga - simply known as Kepa - as Thibaut Courtois' replacement, and have offered the 23-year-old a life-changing package to make a world-record £71m move.

The Blues are now prepared for Courtois to leave the club after the Belgian international failed to report for training for the second consecutive day.

Courtois has his heart set on a move back to Spain with Real Madrid to be closer to his daughters, who live in the capital.

Madrid are understood to be offering in the region of £35m for the 6ft 6in Belgian and he is seen as a perfect element in the core of a new, younger-looking team under Julen Lopetegui.

In a bid to smooth negotiations with Chelsea, the European champions are also understood to have brought up the possibility of Mateo Kovacic entering into a deal in the form of a loan move.

Kovacic, a Croatian international, joined Madrid in 2015 for £26m but has struggled to cement a first-team berth and earlier this summer made public his desire to leave the club.

Maurizio Sarri already has a lot of central midfielders at his disposal, including Tiemoue Bakayoko, N'Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater, Cesc Fabregas, Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and new signing Jorginho, who cost £52m from Napoli, but he was reported to have also requested that the club sign Inter midfielder Matias Vecino. Kovacic would provide a short-term alternative.

Even the arrival of a midfielder wouldn't make up for Courtois' loss though, and while Chelsea have made contact with Jack Butland's entourage and that of Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico, they yesterday accelerated a deal for Bilbao's Kepa to the point that it is only waiting for the player to say yes.

Kepa was on the cusp of signing for Real Madrid in a £17m January deal until Zinedine Zidane pulled the plug.

• CHELSEA'S final warm-up game before the new season ended in a penalty shootout win over Lyon at Stamford Bridge.

The two sides played out a bore 0-0 draw in London, with Eden Hazard's penalty the decider in the spot kicks.

And Liverpool completed their pre-season slate with a 3-1 win over Torino at Anfield.

New signing Fabinho missed a penalty, but goals from Roberto Firmino, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daniel Sturridge handed Jurgen Klopp's men the win.

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