Claudio Ranieri is in the fortunate position of having three quality goalkeepers to choose from. Mark Wheeler assesses the merits of each one and considers which of them deserves to be thought of as Chelsea’s number one number one.

The first dilemma faced by Claudio Ranieri at the beginning of the new season was who to pick as his first choice goalkeeper. The Blues’ head coach had three stoppers to choose from — Ed de Goey, Carlo Cudicini and Mark Bosnich. “In the whole world, I think only Chelsea have three very good goalkeepers,” Ranieri said earlier in the season. “All three of them deserve to play.”

Dutch international de Goey was the established choice, while relative youngster Cudicini had broken into the first team the previous season and Bosnich had arrived on a free transfer from Manchester United but failed to start a single match.

The Italian Cudicini was first to rule himself out of the running after his bizarre dog-walking accident left him needing surgery to repair his injured knee before the season had evenkicked-off. This left de Goey and Bosnich to play half a match each in the pre-season friendlies and there was little to choose between them. However, the talk at the time was that de Goey was on his way back to Holland but could not agree a wage package with Feyenoord — he also turned down a loan spell at Bolton Wanderers — while Bosnich was reportedly struggling to regain full fitness.

Come the opening match of the campaign, at home to Newcastle United, de Goey was given the nod ahead of Bosnich. After Newcastle ’keeper Shay Given had allowed Boudewijn Zenden’s optimistic strike to go straight through him, handing Chelsea the lead, the Geordies equalised when a shot bounced back off de Goey into the path of an onrushing Clarence Acuna.

De Goey, who turns 35 later this December, kept his place for the Southampton match the following week and kept a clean sheet as Chelsea comfortably won 2-0, although he was not greatly troubled by a fairly toothless Saints attack. Then at home to Arsenal, Henry nipped in quicker than a north London burglar to take advantage of de Goey’s failure to hold onto the ball to score the opener in a 1-1 draw. This is not to say that the Dutchman was performing badly. He
generally looked solid, although his continued preference for punching rather than catching was causing some alarm in the stands.

His next two Premiership games both saw him concede two goals, but he was on the loosing side in neither — the traditional 3-2 win at Rottenham and a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Middlesbrough. Either side of the Boro match he kept clean sheets both home and away against Levski Sofia in the Uefa Cup. The 1-1 draw at Fulham was de Goey’s last appearance in the starting line up before injury ruled him out.

Next to pull on the goalkeeper’s jersey for the Blues was Cudicini, the 29-year-old son of the 1960s Milan ’keeper Fabio Cudicini. His father was bizarrely known as the ‘Black Spider’ and was famous for his outstanding performance against Manchester United in the semi-final of the European Cup in 1969.

Cudicini junior made his first appearance of the season at Highfield Road in the Worthington Cup tie against Coventry. Chelsea cruised through to the next round with a 2-0 win. The following weekend saw the return of Dennis Wise to Stamford Bridge with Leicester City and Cudicini kept a second successive clean sheet in another 2-0 victory. However, a slight injury picked up in training was to keep him out of the next match.

Into his stead for the ill-fated trip to Israel to play Hapoel Tel Aviv stepped Bosnich. The 28-year-old former Australian international received a very warm welcome from the travelling Chelsea fans and the many Israel-based Blues supporters. He made some fine saves in his debut appearance, but was unable to prevent either of the goals in a 2-0 defeat. Returning to England to play at Leeds just three days later, Bosnich again impressed and this time kept his first clean sheet for the club in a creditable 0-0 draw.

That was followed by Chelsea’s first league defeat of the season, a 2-0 reverse at West Ham in late October. Then came a 1-1 draw at Derby in which Bosnich was easily Chelsea’s best player, an insufficient 1-1 draw in the return leg of the Uefa Cup tie at home to Hapoel Tel Aviv and a 2-1 league victory at home to Premiership strugglers Ipswich Town. The latter is Bosnich’s sole appearance in a winning Chelsea side to date. The following fixture turned out to be his last
before injury.

With ten minutes left of a dire game at Goodison Park last November, in which the Australian was again performing heroics, he pulled up after taking a goal kick. He had torn a thigh muscle and would be out of the reckoning until January. Cudicini took his place for the closing stages of the Everton match and was called upon to make one particularly brave save at the feet of an attacker to preserve Chelsea’s clean sheet in an ultimately disappointing 0-0 draw.

The Italian has kept his place in the team since then and amassed more clean sheets than Pauline Fowler on a particularly busy day in the Albert Square launderette. Remarkably, Cudicini has conceded just one goal in all his appearances to date this season (up to and including the 4-0 win against Liverpool on 16th December). On top of his shut outs against Coventry and Leicester he has also kept the attacking forces of Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United, Manchester United, Sunderland, Newcastle United and Liverpool at bay.

These matches have included penalty saves against Kevin Phillips and Gary McAllister on consecutive Sundays in December. “I’m very, very happy to save two penalties,” commented Cudicini. “You like facing penalties when you save them, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen all the time,” he added. Ranieri said that Cudicini “was fantastic” in the victory over the table-topping Scousers.

Now that all three ’keepers have had a fair run in the side, which one should be first choice when they are all fit? Carlo Cudicini’s record sets him apart from the crowd and he also has youth on his side. However, he has been fortunate in so far as his latest run in the team has coincided with the gelling of John Terry and William Gallas as a highly impressive central defensive partnership.

Ed de Goey is yet to appear in a loosing Chelsea team this season, although many may say that he is past his best. Mark Bosnich has impressed with his performances, but the team’s record with him between the sticks is far less impressive.

This is the type of selection quandary that managers can normally only dream of. Ranieri and the supporters can be sure that whoever is chosen as Chelsea’s ’keeper, the competition for selection is strong enough to ensure that the incumbent will give of his best. Long may this pleasant problem persist.