Courtois may be the best goalkeeper in the world
The rivalry between Real Madrid and Chelsea in the Champions League is of great interest, including the many individual duels and clashes that inherently carry an interesting story and internal tension. Carlo Ancelotti, who has led Chelsea to victory in the APL in the past, became the first Real Madrid coach to beat the Blues in official matches. Ancelotti and Tuchel, who won the Champions League, by the way, are linked not only with Chelsea, but also with PSG, where they both managed to work.
In the center of the pitch we can see the confrontation between the Croatian national team partners – Modric and Kovačić, and Mateo, who started the match at Stafford Bridge, won the Champions League with both Real Madrid and Chelsea, and in general the main club tournament of the Old World in recent years cannot be won without the Croatian in the team. Rüdiger, whose contract is coming to an end in London, has been on the hook for Real Madrid all season, while David Alaba could go to Chelsea rather than Madrid last summer.
There are even cousins in the squads: Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Real Madrid defender Ferland Mendy are cousins. However, Edouard should be compared to fellow and former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who is in great form and is dreaming of his first Champions League victory. The Belgian lost his first final in 2014 to Real Madrid, when he played for Atletico on loan from Chelsea.
Courtois eliminates rivals with the help of Benzema
When it comes to the first quarterfinal, Courtois won the goalkeeper duel with confidence. Thibaut missed from Haverz, but made four saves, including a couple of very difficult ones, while Mendy, with the same five shots on goal, managed only two. And he co-created the resulting error that led to the third goal for the incomparable Karim Benzema. The Frenchman’s opponent could have been Romelu Lukaku, had the Chelsea forward retained the form he showed in Italy. Alas, the Belgian has not been impressive since his return to the Foggy Albion, and comparisons with one of the main contenders for the Ballon d’Or are inappropriate.
Thibaut Courtois, on the other hand, can and should be compared with his successful peers. In 2022, Gianluigi Donnarumma (Euro 2022 winner with Italy) and Edouard Mendy (2020/21 Champions League winner with Chelsea) were at the top. The Senegalese celebrated his team’s victory at the African Nations Cup earlier this year, but Courtois is being eliminated by Karim Benzema for the UEFA Champions League title with his hat-tricks. And with the obvious mistakes of Gianluigi and Edouard. It’s all on the back of the excellent play of Thibaut who saved a chance for a comeback against PSG and played brilliantly at the familiar Stamford Bridge.
The Great Belgian Wall
The most important field players for Real Madrid this season are Benzema, Modric and Vinicius. These three, as they say, “make the difference” in most matches, but there is a fourth musketeer, Courtois. The Belgian is in his fourth season with the “Slivos”, unsuccessful only the first, when Thibaut was attacked all at once by adaptation, destructive competition with Keylor Navas and the coaching turmoil between Zidane’s first departure from the coaching bridge and his return.
In the 2019/20 season Courtois became Spanish champion for the second time in his career and did it for the first time with Real Madrid, in La Liga the Belgian conceded only 20 goals and picked up the Ricardo Zamora trophy, awarded to the most reliable goalkeeper in the championship. Madrid Madrid were without titles last season, but Courtois was exceptionally good in person: the Belgian had the best percentage of repulsed shots of any goalkeeper in Europe’s top championships.
In the new campaign, the bare statistics are not so outstanding, but there are objective reasons for this: Ancelotti, who replaced Zidane, gives the team more freedom in attack, and there is also a new connection in the center of defense (Eder – Alaba) after the club’s long-term guards Sergio Ramos and Rafael Varan left. Thibaut’s work has become more extreme, but he has not become worse at his job. It is thanks in no small part to Courtois’ efforts that Real Madrid are this close to winning the La Liga title and continuing to dream of a record 14th Champions League triumph.
After a convincing win at Stamford Bridge, the Spanish Marca had this headline: “14th Champions League win within reach for Real Madrid with Benzema and Courtois at this level”. Modrić and Vinicius should not be discounted either, but Karim and Thibaut are the obvious creators of the result, their actions creating the scoreline. Benzema’s hat-tricks against PSG and Chelsea are on the surface, but they might not have been enough without the saves of Courtois, who missed twice from Mbappe, but also saved five of Kylian’s dangerous shots and coped with a Messi penalty.
Courtois is not an easy guy to live with, it is even difficult to consider him a positive character, especially if you ask Atletico fans and Kevin De Bruyne. And Real Madrid fans received Thibault coldly, frowning upon him for his mistakes and tellingly supporting Navas. However, the pirouettes of his personal life, the hatred of the Atletico fans and the scorn of the Chelsea fans do not weigh on the Belgian when he takes the field. He was jeered, whistled, insulted and called a “snake” as the match progressed at Stamford Bridge, but Thibaut’s almost flawless performance, and in particular his superb save following a strike from Aspilicueta in the second half, was the answer.
After Real Madrid’s confident win at Stamford Bridge, the fate of their Champions League semi-final berth is in the hands of Thibaut Courtois, who stood his ground in an unfriendly environment and earned a personal chant from the Madrid torso as the match against Getafe progressed. With Real Madrid playing at home after a 3-1 away win, Courtois only needs to not concede from his former club (well, or concede no more than one goal) for the task to be accomplished.