The happiness of the Champions League final in Paris, the masterpiece of Thibaut Courtois’s career, happened under the slight shadow of Atletico’s anger. The Belgian said that in Madrid he was “on the good side of history”, in reference to the final in Lisbon that he lost as a rojiblanco. The prelude to the Super Cup final tonight in Riyadh (8:00 p.m., Movistar), which Madrid reached supported by its illuminations, is accompanied by the letter that Atletico has sent him to apologize for that. From Paris to Riyadh: a loop of disappointment and inspiration.
The Champions League win against Liverpool was also the beginning of a perfect plan that went awry and led to a still-necessary infiltration program. Days after Paris, Courtois said that he had played that year with groin pain, and did not go with Belgium to four games in the League of Nations. With the World Cup in sight, he understood that the way to face the season well was to rest as soon as possible.
But at the beginning of October his back paralyzed him with sciatica. He tried to recover for the October 16 classic, but didn’t make it in time. Added to the back problem was a strain on the right knee. He kept pressing and played again on October 22 against Sevilla. Although in reality he had not fully recovered and needed to infiltrate to ease the pain. He only had one month left for the World Cup and he wanted to compete.
In November, when Belgium settled on the Qatari beach of Abu Sarma, Courtois was accompanied by the Madrid physiotherapist David Violati. His care was essential for the goalkeeper to be satisfied with his performance, as he recounted on Tuesday in Riyadh: “Apart from Morocco’s goal, I had a good World Cup, with two clean sheets, although if a team doesn’t go through…”. Courtois left Qatar with the disappointment of elimination and the hangover of the tidal wave in his selection, but closer to feeling free of physical problems.
“The problems were more than just the sciatica,” he said Tuesday. The recovery had to be different from that of the classic ailment. He needed a slower and more careful process of physiotherapy treatment, as well as an injection program. These punctures, which he still receives, are different from the usual ones to sedate or block: they are part of the restorative therapy.
With this care package, Courtois begins to set records that are among the best of his career, and through which part of Madrid’s problems can also be read. Ancelotti has warned several times in recent days of the need to adjust the defense. It had been eight seasons since Courtois had not been shot so much: he receives 3.9 shots on goal per league game, according to data from fbref.com. Only in the 2015/16 season, his second at Chelsea, he was shot more, 4.1 times. There are 17 goalkeepers in the championship with a better percentage of clean sheets than the Belgian, who stands at 8.3%. Last season he was the second best: he did not receive a goal in 44.4% of the games.
Courtois, also aware of the defensive gaps, is more confident these days in which his physique no longer weighs him down: “In modern football it is very rare for a goalkeeper to not have a job, especially if you try to play offensively, with many players for in front of the ball. It is not a problem. Last year it was like that too. The difference is that they have scored a tad more goals for us”.
He has honed in, now posting the third best save percentage of his career. After the World Cup he has been definitive again, like against Valladolid or in the Super Cup semifinal. As in the final in Paris, when Atletico’s anger began. Days before today’s classic, Courtois replied that he will continue to be proud of his past there and that he will continue to speak fondly of the club.
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Source: EL PAIS