Real Madrid goalkeepers: Kepa not out of the picture with Lunin's future uncertain


At the end of last season, it seemed clear that Kepa Arrizabalaga would go back to Chelsea after his loan at Real Madrid and wouldn’t be returning to the Santiago Bernabeu.

The Spaniard had filled in well for the injured Thibaut Courtois when called upon, even if he lost his place as No 2 to the Ukrainian Andriy Lunin. He used his Chelsea experience to help Lunin in the penalty shootout win against Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals and was praised by those at the club for his professionalism despite limited opportunities.

Lunin, 25, appeared close to a new deal to keep him at Madrid until 2029. That extension is now up in the air and the 29-year-old Arrizabalaga could still be an option, despite having said his goodbyes at the end of last month — but it’s complicated.

So, where do Arrizabalaga and Lunin stand?

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Both goalkeepers’ fortunes changed in January. Arrizabalaga appeared to have won the battle to stand in for Courtois as he recovered from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. But, after several mistakes by Arrizabalaga following an injury and an improvement by Lunin, the debate was settled in the Ukrainian’s favour.

He didn’t look back, becoming the hero in the shootout against City at the Etihad Stadium — saving two penalties to take his team through to the semi-finals. It was a key moment in Madrid going on to lift a record-extending 15th European Cup/Champions League title.

A month earlier, The Athletic reported that Madrid had opened talks with Lunin’s agent, Jorge Mendes, about extending his contract, which runs out in 2025. It was an impressive turnaround from the end of 2022-23 when Carlo Ancelotti and his coaching staff considered the possibility of replacing Lunin, with Getafe goalkeeper David Soria’s name discussed at the time.

Lunin made 31 appearances, more than in any previous season at the Bernabeu, conceding 32 goals and keeping 12 clean sheets. But his season turned sour when Courtois returned.

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Lunin did not start the Champions League final against Dortmund (Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

After suffering a second knee injury in March, the club suggested Courtois wouldn’t play again before the end of the campaign. But the Champions League final was the Belgian’s real target — with the idea that he would start that game at Wembley if Madrid reached that stage.

Courtois was on the bench for both legs of the semi-final against Bayern Munich as Lunin again put in a strong showing. The Ukrainian thought he would start the final despite the Madrid No 1’s status, but a virus prevented him from travelling with the team to London. He travelled by himself on the day of the match, June 1.

Courtois started as expected, kept a clean sheet and produced a number of good saves as Madrid won 2-0 against Borussia Dortmund. Lunin’s concerns were growing, meanwhile, to the extent his future was now unclear.

An agreement for Lunin’s extension has been in place for a while, as confirmed to The Athletic by all parties, without them confirming whether it has been signed.

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If the Madrid No 2 expresses a desire to leave and Mendes presents the club with what they consider to be a fair offer, they are open to negotiating. They are aware of Premier League interest and are waiting to see what role Mendes plays.

Talks over the summer have led Ancelotti to believe Lunin will stay — although the Italian is not 100 per cent certain.

Lunin endured a difficult European Championship with Ukraine, struggling in their first game against Romania before being dropped for Benfica’s Anatoliy Trubin as his side were eliminated at the group stage. He plans to report to Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground on July 15 despite being involved in that tournament, when the players who have not taken part in the Euros or the Copa America will join up with the squad.

That is when the goalkeeper’s future will start to be clarified, with sources close to Lunin — who, like all those cited in this article, asked to remain anonymous to protect relationships — saying that nothing has been decided. But Lunin wants to be first-choice at Madrid and Mendes will be tasked with finding a solution if this is not possible.

Madrid and Ancelotti would prefer him to stay, but if the goalkeeper leaves, the club consider Arrizabalaga to be a great alternative.

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Arrizabalaga’s attitude at Madrid was praised (Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

They valued his attitude during his spell at Madrid, even when he wasn’t playing. He made 20 appearances in all competitions, conceding 18 goals and keeping nine clean sheets.

They were impressed by the tips he gave Lunin in the City shootout, helping him to save one effort from Bernardo Silva and another from Mateo Kovacic (Arrizabalaga faced Bernardo in the 2019 Carabao Cup final shootout).

Arrizabalaga was also almost responsible for one of the goals of the season when Madrid faced Osasuna in March — he advised substitute Arda Guler that Osasuna ’keeper Sergio Herrera liked to play further forward, leading to the Turkish midfielder taking a shot from the halfway line that hit the bar.

He proved to be a good fit in the Madrid dressing room, so much so that he came on in the 63rd minute of the last day of the La Liga season against Real Betis to say farewell to fans at the Bernabeu. Courtois was behind that gesture and it was approved by the goalkeeping coach Luis Llopis and Ancelotti.

Arrizabalaga is well aware of how his situation could be affected by Lunin’s decisions and likes the idea of staying at Madrid. His contract at Chelsea runs until 2025 and he is on a high salary, so the west London club are keen to find a new destination for him.

But all parties know that the timing required for this to happen is very complicated. Arrizabalaga has to work on where he might end up regardless of Lunin’s future, as he is doing.

Madrid have compiled reports on other goalkeepers, but everything would depend on the board’s approval. For now, all eyes are on Lunin.

(Top photos: Getty Images)



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