- As Atletico crumble 1-4 on penalties
Real Madrid goalkeeper and Belgium international, Thibaut Courtois, who struggled during his first 12 months at Santiago Bernabeu, has suddenly become a shining light in recent weeks for the Blancos
At the start of this season, huge question marks hung over Courtois, who was even dropped for reserve Alphonse Areola earlier in the campaign.
But now, at the halfway point, the Belgium international has been a fundamental part of Madrid’s swing in form and, more than anyone, deserved to lift the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday.
His excellent saves against Atletico in the game kept the score at 0-0 through 120 minutes before he then denied Thomas Partey from the spot as Real triumphed 4-1 in the shootout in Jeddah.
What the two sides lacked in regularity in their play, they made up for in narrative consistency; this was the fifth final between these two sides in a row which ended up in extra time.
The 2013 Copa del Rey final, the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals and the European Super Cup final last season all needed an extra 30 minutes and sometimes penalties to be settled one way or the other.
The two goalkeepers, Courtois and Atletico’s Jan Oblak, will also fight their corners; neither seemed beatable in this clash. For Oblak, that has been the case for years, but this was a moment for Courtois to reinstate himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Poetically it came against his former side.
When Madrid played at the Wanda Metropolitano, Courtois was jeered mercilessly by Atletico fans, who desecrated his plaque outside the stadium, placing trash and soft toy rats on it.
The rats were also thrown at him in the Madrid derby in February, so this victory and his role in it was extremely sweet for the goalkeeper.
Just as Courtois has revived his career, Madrid have turned things around too. From last season’s disaster, lifting silverware now – despite the criticism this competition has received, despite the fact they didn’t win La Liga or the Spanish Cup last year so in any other year wouldn’t have been in the tournament – is a big morale boost.
It is something concrete to show the lamentable displays of last year have been forgotten, and in the moment rivals Barcelona are in disarray, Madrid are doing what Madrid love to do – win.
Courtois is doing what he loves to do too. Madrid conceded just 12 goals in the first 19 league games, the best tally since the 1987-88 season. Courtois has now kept 12 clean sheets from 23 matches across all competitions and looks the imperious figure that once wore Atletico’s shirt.
The first half here was error strewn and tense, with neither side clearly in the ascendency.
Madrid shaded the play but Atletico had the best chance, served up to Joao Felix on a platter by Real skipper Sergio Ramos, but the Portuguese forward skewed a dismal effort wide from inside the area.
Zidane opted for the same side which powered past Valencia without a second thought in midweek, but Atletico were far wider and sturdier opponents.
After the break Madrid should have taken the lead when Fede Valverde was left with a free header from just a few yards out, but as the Uruguayan leaped he nodded the ball against his own thigh and it deflected off-target.
The midfielder was later sent off in the final minutes of extra-time for cynically scything down Alvaro Morata, who was clean through. He received the man of the match award; although Courtois would have backed himself to deny the Spanish striker.
Renan Lodi lashed wide at the other end, but it was Los Blancos increasingly in charge of the game.
Unfortunately for them, they had no cutting edge. Struggling summer signing Luka Jovic did not take full advantage of Karim Benzema’s absence in this tournament but did show sufficient spark in the second half to offer some hope to Madrid.
The €60 million Serbia forward was once foiled by a last ditch tackle, then angled an effort inches wide, before setting up Valverde for his chance.
Courtois, meanwhile, made more saves in extra-time, denying Vitolo and Angel Correa, before the shoot-out
“It was a great save I think because he hit it really hard, really well,” said Courtois of his crucial penalty stop from Partey.
Courtois is not shy of blowing his own trumpet, but after going from zero to hero for Real Madrid, nobody can argue with it.
With the Belgian back to his best between the sticks, Madrid will hope this trophy kickstarts their bid to bring more serious honours to Santiago Bernabeu in the second half of the season. – Goal.com