It has been confirmed by Atletico Madrid that Thibaut Courtois will play with them for the third season in a row next year.
Having signed for Chelsea in the summer of 2011, he has yet to make a single appearance for the club despite impressing hugely in La Liga and being touted as perhaps the best young goalkeeping talent in the world.
Courtois played a significant role in both of his seasons with Atletico, winning the Europa League in 2012 and the Copa del Rey in 2013. Now the club has released a statement concerning the confirmed agreement with Chelsea and the player that he shall continue with them in Spain.
[quote]Thibaut Courtois will return to Atletico Madrid next season after an agreement was reached between our club and Chelsea for him to play on loan for another year.[/quote]
Prior to the confirmed loan move Courtois had made his wish to play again for Atletico public, having spoken to Chelsea and Jose Mourinho.
[quote] I have to continue playing and at Chelsea there’s (Petr) Cech who has always been a great goalkeeper. At Atletico I’m sure I can play and I can continue to be the first-choice keeper of the Red Devils (Belgium). I spoke with Mourinho and he told me the best thing is to continue maturing.[/quote]
Courtois has summarised the whole situation in a nutshell. Chelsea have the most wonderful of headaches when it comes to their goalkeepers. They have both the finished article of a top quality keeper in Cech, and the next big thing between the posts in Courtois. For Courtois to live up to his potential though he needs to be playing regularly, and at Atletico Madrid he will get that, and he will also be playing in the Champions League.
In 2012/13 Courtois conceded just 29 goals in 37 appearances in the league, which gave him the outstanding record of conceding an average of 0.78 goals per game, a stat that saw him break numerous club records and pick up various accolades all declaring him the best goalkeeper in La Liga.
From 120 shots on target he saved 93 (implying that he conceded 27 rather than 29, although that doesn’t account for deflections and own goals), giving him a save percentage of 76.3%. In total he kept 20 clean sheets in his 37 league matches.
He may still be young and full of potential, but any Atletico fan and these statistics will tell you that he is already good enough to play for the best clubs in the world. The fact that Chelsea have chosen to loan him out again is a testament to Petr Cech.
When it comes to comparing Cech and Courtois over the last season, we find ourselves in the fortunate position that both keepers played in a team that finished third in their respective league, and both made almost the exact same amount of league appearances. This ultimately makes any statistical comparison far more accurate and reliable.
Cech conceded 36 goals in 36 appearances in the Premier League last season; that’s 7 more than Courtois in one less game. This meant that on average he conceded exactly 1 goal per game. He did however face 154 shots on target in that time though, which is 34 more than Courtois, and from those shots he saved 120. All this meant that he had a save percentage of 76.9%, incredibly just 0.6% better than Courtois.
It is that final stat that is arguably the most important, because the amount of shots that a keeper shall face, and to an extent the amount of goals that a keeper shall concede, is down to the defence. The only stat that is down to just the goalkeeper is save percentage, and on that stat Courtois and Cech are almost identical.
So it is easy to understand why Chelsea have opted to loan Courtois back to Atletico. There is no point in having two outstanding players for one position, especially when one of them is young and needs to play as much as possible.
Some might argue that Courtois is good enough to take over at Chelsea, and so that he should have returned to play under Jose Mourinho. Indeed he is good enough, but Cech is at the same level. It must also be taken into consideration that Cech has been an extraordinary servant for the club, an influential figure in the squad and a leader on the pitch. If Chelsea were to force him into taking a back seat to Courtois, or even just splitting the games between them, they would be losing that experience and leadership, not to mention that it would be harsh and possibly disrespectful to a player who will surely be a Chelsea legend. Cech is still at the top of his game, only De Gea had a better save percentage than him in the league (77.8%), and while this remains the case it will be difficult for any solid reasoning for his replacement to exist.
Until Cech’s time truly does come, Chelsea must do all that they can to keep Courtois. The player has already spoken of the fact that he feels like an Atletico player and not like a Chelsea player. Comments like that will worry Chelsea who will not want to lose the young talent, regardless of what I wrote in the previous paragraph.
It will be difficult, however, for Chelsea to keep Courtois feeling connected to the club while he is being routinely loaned abroad, albeit to a big club. A continuation of this policy may well lead to Courtois wanting an exit from the London club. To make matters worse it will run down his contract and so Courtois, not Chelsea, will be in a position of power if he opts not to sign a new deal, which could lead Chelsea to lose him for free or at a heavily reduced price. Can Chelsea make Courtois feel appreciated and convince him that he has a guaranteed future with them? It’s hard to say. This is the nature of Chelsea’s wonderful goalkeeping headache.