Belgian shot-stopper Thibault Courtois is in the form of his life, leading the charts for the most cleansheets in Europe’s top five leagues this season with 17. The Madrid number 1 is well on course to achieve what will be his third Zamora trophy having already achieved a couple while playing for Madrid’s city rivals, Atletico. No Real Madrid keeper has won the Zamora Trophy since Iker Casillas back in 2008, but Courtois looks well set to bring back the prestigious trophy to the Bernabeu after a twelve-year absence. However, the Belgian was facing very different fortunes last season and has spectacularly managed to turn things around for Los Blancos this season.
Thibault Courtois: Changing Fortunes
Real Madrid isn’t known for its strong defence. The club has always relied more on its strike force instead of defensive stability. Historically, Madridistas expect their defenders and goalkeepers to play second fiddle to their team’s attack rather than providing a strong organized defence for 90 minutes.
That was the expectation when the Madrid club acquired Courtois from Chelsea for a modest $44 million. The former Atletico Madrid man established himself as Real Madrid’s number one for the campaign beating out competition from the three-time Champions League winner, Keylor Navas. Courtois was expected to follow in the footsteps of the Costa Rican but just like his fellow colleagues, the Belgian had a horror season conceding a mammoth 43 goals with 33 of them coming in the league while managing only a mediocre 8 clean sheets. Although this defensive breakdown could be blamed on Real’s shambolic defending, Courtois had no running away from the fact that he had failed the Bernabeu faithful and had quite some catching to do to win their faith back.
Zidane backs Courtois
Zinedine Zidane made it clear at the beginning of the current campaign that Thibault Courtois would remain Real Madrid’s number one. Navas left the club for Paris Saint Germain with Areola arriving in Madrid as a backup option. Courtois began the 19/20 season the same way he ended the previous one, conceding nine goals in the first five matches. Turmoil was about as many argued as to whether replacing Navas was even logical.
Perhaps the biggest low in Courtois’ Real Madrid career came in the match against Club Brugge. Having already conceded two goals in the first half, Courtois was brought off in the second half. It seemed he was nearing his end at Real Madrid. However, just a fortnight later, Courtois delivered a Man of the Match performance against Galatasaray helping the Los Blancos achieve their first win in the European competition. The Belgian has barely put a foot wrong since then and has reestablished himself among the best keepers in the game.
From then to now
The Madrid keeper has 17 cleansheets already this campaign — a massive improvement from last season. He also averages just 0.55 goals conceded per 90 minutes. For comparison, last term he averaged 1.22 goals conceded per 90 minutes. The Belgian has also kept four cleansheets in four matches against FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid which may well prove to be important to Madrid winning La Liga after three years.
Zinedine Zidane has balanced out the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo’s strike power in front of goal with a much more organized and stabilized defence. Thibault Courtois undoubtedly has been an integral part of it. The Belgian has provided a wonderful example of bouncing back from adversity to being the best in the business.
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