Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea go for Premier League stopper as Courtois bids to force Real move

By Mark Bryans

Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois failed to report for training yesterday as doubts over his future at Stamford Bridge intensified.

The 26-year-old was absent from the Blues' Cobham training base despite being due to make his return from a summer break.

Courtois, who has been heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid and seems determined to move to the Spanish capital, was handed an extended holiday after helping Belgium to a third-place finish at the World Cup.

However, it is believed Courtois failed to show up amid reports he has already told new Blues boss Maurizio Sarri he is keen to leave the club before Thursday's transfer deadline.

Last night Chelsea moved to sign Jack Butland from Stoke as Courtois' replacement.

Chelsea have opened negotiations over a move for the 25-year-old England goalkeeper, who is expected to cost them roughly an initial £20m rising to a potential £30m through add-ons.

Butland had been expected to be sold to a Premier League side this summer after returning from the World Cup, but he started Stoke's 3-1 defeat at Leeds United in the Championship on Sunday.

However, with Chelsea now moving fast to sign a new goalkeeper before the transfer window shuts on Thursday afternoon, Butland is expected to be a Chelsea player in time to face Huddersfield Town in their Premier League opener on Saturday.

Chelsea's hand has been forced by Courtois pushing through his move to Real Madrid this week.

Courtois has been desperate for a move to Real for some time and only has one year left on his Chelsea contract, giving the club an incentive to sell him rather than see him go on a free next summer.

The outline of a £35m deal with Real Madrid has been in place for weeks, but Chelsea would not accept it without having a replacement for Courtois.

Earlier this summer they failed to sign Alisson, but if they can now sign Butland by Thursday afternoon, then Courtois will get his dream move after all.

Chelsea are also reportedly looking at the likes of Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak.

Courtois' Belgian team-mate Eden Hazard is also being linked with a move away but Willian insists he is happy at the club despite revealing Barcelona made an approach for his services.

"I'm a Chelsea player," admitted Willian last night.

"I always made it clear that what I wanted was to stay at the club. The only club I knew that really made an official offer for me was Barcelona.

"But I have my head here and I intend to continue at the club unless the club wants to sell me. But my head is here at the club."

Chelsea defender David Luiz has urged Courtois and Hazard to stay, while insisting the club have enough quality even if the pair leave.

"Chelsea want the best players to stay," Luiz said.

"They know Chelsea a lot, so they know what they've had here, the fun they've had here. Everybody loves them and I hope they can stay.

"If they decide to leave, I think we will continue with fantastic players."

Luiz knows what life is like away from Chelsea, having spent two seasons at Paris St-Germain before returning to Stamford Bridge in August 2016.

He played a crucial role in Chelsea's title triumph in Antonio Conte's first season as head coach before injury and a rumoured fallout saw him sidelined.

He insists he never contemplated leaving Chelsea for a second time and is now keen to show he can be a key figure for Sarri's Chelsea.

"I was just working and trying to do my best," Luiz added.

"Everybody has the opportunity, you just have to show him character, physical quality, technical quality, so since the first day I'm trying to do that."

Sarri has torn up Conte's three-man defence, replacing it with a back four, in the three weeks since his appointment.

The 59-year-old Italian's style has been likened to Pep Guardiola's.

But while Manchester City afforded the Catalan time to adjust in his first season in England, there is precious little time for Sarri.

Luiz said that he hopes the Chelsea players can "understand it quickly and can fight for the titles" this season. So far, though, he is a big fan of Sarri's style.

"Guardiola is a fantastic coach, and also Sarri is a fantastic coach," he said.

But can he have the same impact?

"I hope so, that's our goal, we're going to work on that. I'm in love with his philosophy, the way he is training, the way he loves football."

Asked what has most impressed him, Luiz said: "Everything: the way he thinks (about) football, the way he loves football, the way he works with us, the way he sees the details."

And while Conte believed that Luiz could not play as one of two centre-backs, that is how Sarri used him in the Community Shield loss to Manchester City on Sunday.

"I've won 17 titles in my career, and only two in a back three," Luiz said. "It doesn't matter, you just have to understand the collective philosophy."

"If you win, it's good - it's always like that. I'm always happy to do my best to help the coach and the club."

Meanwhile, Ross Barkley played his first 90 minutes in over a year on Sunday.

He is optimistic of a strong campaign, which begins with Saturday's Premier League opener at Huddersfield.

"It's a big season for me," he commented.

"I had a few injuries and I signed off of a long-term injury. But that's behind me now.

"I'm feeling really strong now and I'm sure when the season starts next week I'll be ready to go."

Barkley hopes to secure a place in Sarri's side and earn an England recall.

The 24-year-old moved to Stamford Bridge from Everton in January, but injuries limited his impact.

"The (England) team did really well (at the World Cup) and the team's going far," Barkley said. "You can see the direction the team's going in. Hopefully the performances that I put in early on I can get back in the squad.

"That's my aim, but to be doing well for Chelsea is first thing."

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