Voices: Joseph Lowery

New England to Chelsea: Why Djordje Petrovic can become elite


Sometimes in this sport, you see transfers that make you scratch your head: How does this player fit with his new team? Why did they pick him? Is he even ready for a higher level?

Djordje Petrovic going from the New England Revolution to Chelsea FC for a reported $17.5 million fee is absolutely not one of those moves.

Since signing for the Revs in April 2022, Petrovic has been the class of Major League Soccer’s goalkeeping group. He’s garnered plenty of European interest in the past – but having the chance to suit up for Chelsea, one of the biggest clubs in the entire world and one of the few atop the global club food chain, is surely a dream come true for the 23-year-old Serbian international.

So, what makes Petrovic so special? And why did Chelsea prioritize signing him to replace Kepa Arrizabalaga (on loan at Real Madrid) and potentially even compete for starting minutes with fellow newcomer Robert Sánchez?

Let’s dig in.

What makes Petrovic elite?

The first thing you need to know about Petrovic – and undoubtedly the first thing Chelsea noticed about Petrovic when they started scouting him – is that he’s an incredible shot-stopper. Whatever you’re thinking right now, he’s better than that.

When Petrovic signed with New England, the young goalkeeper had some big shoes to fill. Petrovic was going to have to replace US men’s national team starter Matt Turner after his move to Arsenal. It would have been reasonable to expect a drop-off in goal for the Revolution. And yet? Petrovic blew Turner’s MLS performances out of the water that season, saving 0.87 more goals than expected per 96 minutes than Turner did in 2022, according to American Soccer Analysis.

Standing at 6-foot-4, Petrovic has a big frame and amazingly quick reflexes in goal. He’s assertive but rarely overreacts in goal, instead waiting for just the right moment to take a step forward to close down a shooting angle or to lunge to one side to make a key intervention.

Zooming out, Petrovic saved 10.75 goals more than expected last season in just over 2,000 minutes for New England. Not only was that the best shot-stopping performance in MLS in 2022, but it was the best in MLS’s recorded history. ASA’s database goes back to 2013, and Petrovic’s name is right there on top of a decade’s worth of shot-stoppers.

It’s hard to follow up a season’s worth of performances like that one, but Petrovic has been excellent this year, too. He’s already saved New England 4.22 goals more than expected, per ASA, which puts him third in the league in that category behind Roman Bürki (St. Louis CITY SC) and Daniel (San Jose Earthquakes).

Petrovic keeps an absurd number of shots out of the back of his net, which is the most valuable skill a goalkeeper can have. But that’s not all he brings to the table: After he’s saved a shot, Petrovic is very precise with how he catches or parries the ball to one side, denying opponents easy rebounds and tap-in goals. He’s also steady on crosses and uses his size and wingspan to claim all sorts of balls in the box. In the compilation down below, you can see how rarely Petrovic gives up an easy rebound to an onrushing attacker.

There’s plenty of room for Petrovic to develop with the ball at his feet, especially since New England don’t ask their goalkeepers to control the ball in the back under any sort of pressure. He can find a striker with a booming long ball, but doesn’t often have the chance to work on his short passing with the Revs. His distribution will take some time to get up to speed once he starts training with Chelsea, but his otherworldly shot-stopping will make the wait worthwhile for the Premier League giants.

How does he compare to EPL goalkeepers?

Petrovic is not nearly as skillful with his feet as the Premier League’s top goalkeepers. But based on his shot-stopping ability, Petrovic compares very favorably to the EPL’s best.

According to FBref, Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson led the Premier League in goals saved per 90 above expected (0.27) last year, followed by Fulham’s Bernd Leno and recently-departed Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa (0.18). This season in MLS, Petrovic has equaled Alisson’s 0.27 number.

Now, it’s difficult to say Petrovic will equal his MLS impact in the richest league in the world. Still, he’s proven to be an elite goalkeeper on this side of the Atlantic, and that’s not likely to change on the other side of the Atlantic.

What about Slonina & Turner?

Petrovic isn’t the only impressive goalkeeper to move from MLS to London over the last 18 months.

Matt Turner went from the Revolution to Arsenal in the summer of 2022. After last season, the USMNT No. 1 recently moved to fellow Premier League team Nottingham Forest. Gaga Slonina, another member of Chelsea’s goalkeeper union, signed with the English club from Chicago Fire FC in August 2022 for an eight-figure fee before joining the team in January 2023. The 19-year-old US international is now on loan with Eupen in Belgium’s top flight.

At this point, it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that Petrovic outshines that duo. Sure, Slonina is still young and developing, and he may one day surpass Petrovic with Chelsea. But Petrovic’s mixture of size, reaction time, decision-making and technique pushes him past both Slonina and Turner. Even at Turner’s peak with New England in 2019 and 2020 and Slonina’s breakout year in 2021, neither player rivaled Petrovic’s pure shot-stopping ability.

All three could end up as productive, reliable Premier League starters – Turner is already enjoying the responsibility of starting every weekend for Nottingham Forest. But it’s hard to argue with Petrovic as the cream of that crop.

What is Petrovic’s ceiling?

The sky's the limit for Petrovic. Truly.

Not to be hyperbolic, but he could end up as one of the world’s best goalkeepers as he continues to develop over the next several seasons. Petrovic needs to prove he can adjust to a new, higher level before he even comes close to entering that conversation. But based on his performances in MLS and his unique set of traits between the posts, Petrovic is set up to climb the global hierarchy very quickly.

He’ll no doubt start by picking up minutes in cup matches for Chelsea while playing behind Sánchez in Mauricio Pochettino’s depth chart. But those who have watched Petrovic over the last two seasons won’t be surprised if he catapults into a starting position at some point this season.