Sometimes the very trait that makes you strong can be the same source of weakness as well. This particular ideology is what has seen Zinedine Zidane excel in Real Madrid but very soon it could prove to haunt all his good work. A familiar trait that remained constant when the Frenchman won three consecutive Champions League titles in his previous stint was his continued trust in the “old guard”. Apparently, it now seems the old guard have run out of steam and while Zidane will still field the likes of Marcelo, Modric and co when they are fit, another squad member that should be given second thought is goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
The Belgian was beaten by Lago Junior early on in RCD Mallorca’s only shot on target in their 1-0 loss on Saturday, continuing Courtois’ woeful run of failing to keep a clean sheet – as well as inflicting Real’s first defeat in La Liga this season.
To make matters worse, the former Atletico Madrid shot-stopper has made 11 saves and conceded 12 goals in between the sticks for Los Blancos this term.
Thibaut Courtois saves this season: 11
Thibaut Courtois goals conceded this season: 12
— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 19, 2019
But that stat that well and truly underlines how bad Courtois has been since returning to the Spanish capital last year is the fact that the Genk youth product has let in in 60 goals in 44 games (Transfermarkt) for Real Madrid.
Certainly not numbers you expect from a goalkeeper playing at the top level for one of the world’s biggest sides.
If reputation were to determine lineups, then yes Courtois should definitely make the cut every game-week. But as far as form has been lately, there’s no reason why Areola shouldn’t stake a claim as the first-choice goalkeeper in the wake of all these events.
Madrid’s 2-2 draw with Club Brugge three weeks ago was one that clearly summarized the above narrative. While the scoreline itself was disappointing enough, goalkeeper Alphonse Areola helped prevent a loss with a dramatic save in a one-on-one situation.
Whereas Thibaut Courtois embarrassed himself in a one-on-one situation after Real Madrid’s defence completely broke down for Club Brugge’s first goal, Alphonse Areola bailed Sergio Ramos out by making a wonderful stop when facing an attacker one-on-one. Ramos would later score a headed goal to give new life to Real, and Casemiro added another to rescue a point.
Areola was substituted into the game at the half, which is rare. Managers will scarcely take out a starting goalkeeper for a backup, and while reports later suggested that Courtois was dealing with a stomach issue, it actually seemed to be a tactical substitution. Even much more recently, Madrid have had to refute claims that Courtois was suffering from “anxiety” problems on the pitch.
After impressing against Osasuna the week prior to the Club Brugge game, Areola clearly looked like the better keeper against Brugge, albeit in another small sample.
Just as he did against Osasuna, Areola looked far more active in coming out of his box to deal with long balls that were intended to launch quick counterattacks. His distribution was also infinitely better than Courtois’, which speaks to the confidence the former PSG starter has.
Even as a new acquisition, Areola hasn’t shied away from barking orders to his defenders, including world-class captain Sergio Ramos. Areola has also received adulation from the supporters in the stands at the Bernabeu and fans online, who have been quick to sing his praises and change their bio photos to pictures of him.
At this point, Real Madrid can’t go back to Courtois as their primary starter. He might have kept a clean sheet against Sevilla but he never had to make a big save throughout the game as Real held the opposition to no shots on target in the full 90 minutes (Skysports). Areola’s clean sheet against Osasuna was similarly uneventful in terms of shots on target faced, but once again, he looked better when on the ball and claiming crosses.
Considering Courtois’ rapid deterioration, Chelsea did very well to get £35m for Courtois, who looks completely out of sorts and a far cry from the commanding goalkeeper that won Golden Glove awards in the Premier League and World Cup, as well as being named the best goalkeeper in the world in 2018.
Whether it might simply be a temporary loss of confidence or an actual dip in quality, Zidane must now consider dropping Courtois or Madrid will be even more susceptible to dropping further points. With Barcelona around waiting to capitalize, every solitary point is important if Madrid are to stand any chance of getting close to the La Liga title.