If Asmir Begovic got his way in the January transfer window, he would have very likely been between the sticks for Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium, hoping to shut out his former club Chelsea in Saturday's late kick-off match of the league's 31st round. He was on the Blues bench, however – again – as the Antonio Conte's men marched on to a 3-1 away win.
The Bosnian goalkeeper was the subject of a £10million bid from Eddie Howe's club, but a deal was not struck because Chelsea could not secure a replacement. As a result, Begovic's frustration with his backup role is set to continue until at least the summer.
The 29-year-old enjoyed a decent run in the side in his debut season after signing from Stoke City back in 2015, making 17 league appearances plus another five in the UEFA Champions League, following a knee injury suffered by established first-choice, Thibaut Courtois.
That was the season that saw Jose Mourinho lose his job following a shocking and dismal run of form and reported dressing room unrest off the back of the club's title triumph the season prior. Begovic, as a result, kept just four clean sheets in the league. He did fare better in the Champions League, however, keeping three.
This season, Begovic is yet to appear in the league as Courtois has stayed fit and in form, topping the charts with 13 clean sheets as the Blues close in on another league title in Conte's debut season in charge.
Begovic has instead had to make do with League Cup and FA Cup appearances, making just six appearances across both competitions, keeping just two clean sheets, which came in his last two games.
“I have spoken with the boss – we are quite open about it, he knows I am desperate to play, and that is all it is, really,” he said after the 4-0 home win over Brentford in the FA Cup back in January.
He added: “I am 29, 30 in the summer, and I feel fantastic and in great shape. It would be a waste not to play and show people what I can do.”
With Conte willing to sanction a move once a replacement is signed, here are six options the Italian can pursue to grant Begovic the exit he craves.
The Scotland international has come through a difficult period with injuries to return to form with runaway Scottish Premier League champions, Celtic. The Hoops remain unbeaten in the league in Brendan Rodgers' debut season in charge, a season that has seen them top the scoring charts with 85 goals as well as boast the best defensive record, with just 20 goals conceded in 32 games.
Gordon may have had very little to do with the former statistic, but he has certainly been key to the latter, proving a reliable presence between the sticks. He was said to be Conte's pick to replace Begovic back in January, but a deal never materialised after two bids reportedly failed. He has since signed a new deal, but since when do these things stop a transfer from happening?
Diego López is another who was linked with the Blues back in January as replacements were lined up for Begovic. The Spaniard has been enjoying regular football at Espanyol in La Liga, however, following a loan move from parent club Milan, where he was relegated to the bench after highly-rated youngster, Gianluigi Donnarumma, burst onto the scene.
López has made 28 league appearances to date, keeping a highly respectable 10 clean sheets, just two behind Barcelona ‘keeper Marc-André ter Stegen, who tops the chart in this respect. He has also made a total of 73 saves this season, enough to rank him eighth among all the league's stoppers.
At 35, the experienced López, who has played for Sevilla, Villarreal and Real Madrid in addition to Milan in what has generally been a quietly successful career, is still coming up with the goods. No wonder Conte is interested, which pleases the Spaniard.
“It affects me positively,” he said back in January about the interest shown in him. “This kind of news is good for me because it’s a recognition of my job. But beyond that I am calm and focused on Espanyol until the 30th of June.”
He is keen to stay at the club, though, and understandably so, as it is clear that as long as Courtois is at the club and fit, he will remain number one. There is no harm in testing the water with respect to the prospects of a summer deal, however.
The former Lazio, current Galatasaray stopper is another who has been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge. At 30, he is vastly experienced at both club and international level for Uruguay, for whom he has 88 caps.
This season, he has kept seven clean sheets as his club sit in third place in the Turkish Super Lig and ranks fourth in the league for saves made (66). He has spent a long time as an established first choice ‘keeper, though, so whether he would want to sit on the bench at Chelsea remains to be seen. But Conte won't know for sure if he does not ask.
Once on his way to Manchester United in a swap deal involving David De Gea, Navas, due to circumstances beyond his control, ended up staying at Real Madrid and establishing himself as their number one stopper.
He initially did extremely well, earning rave reviews, but this season has proven a difficult one for him. A mere four clean sheets in the league offers some proof of that. As such, it has been reported that the club is ready to give him the boot and try for De Gea again.
Navas, then, would need somewhere to go. He remains a talented goalkeeper and would prove a capable and experienced understudy to Courtois. Would he fancy a move given the situation he would face remains to be seen, but this is a decent option to at least explore.
The 30-year-old Italy international lost his spot to Kevin Trapp at Paris Saint-Germain and has rarely been seen in club action since. After a loan spell at Sevilla earlier this season, where he again hardly featured, making just two La Liga appearances, he knows once again what it is like to be number one following another loan move, this time to Osasuna.
He kept his first clean sheet in 10 league games for the club in his last match away to Alaves, a 1-0 win. He will likely be on the move again this summer, with the Spanish club certain to be relegated and his future at PSG anything but certain, with Trapp and Alphonse Areola the current ‘keepers of choice there.
He is an experienced ‘keeper and is of course known by Conte personally, given his time in Italy as well as his time as national team coach. That said, this is also an option that has been reportedly investigated.
According to the Daily Mirror, Chelsea are looking at this 20-year-old Udinese starlet. Whether the plan is to loan him out to continue his development or keep him at the club to provide backup to Courtois remains to be seen, but Meret is currently on loan at SPAL in Serie B and has been outstanding as the club fights for promotion to Italy's top flight.
What is more, Chelsea is not the only interested club, with Juventus and Inter also said to be expressing an interest, so if there is smoke here, they need to light the fire quickly. Meret is obviously the least experienced option listed here, but he is said to have a lot of potential – enough potential to place him up alongside the likes of compatriots Gianluigi Donnarumma of Milan, Genoa's Mattia Perrin, and Udinese's Simone Scuffet, all of whom are expected to have successful careers in the game.