Thibaut Courtois ensures Atletico Madrid’s Europa League prospects are in safe hands
When Atletico Madrid line up against Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final on Wednesday, their last line of defence will be Chelsea-owned and is earning rave reviews for his performances in Spain.
Thibaut Courtois was signed by ex-Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas in July and promptly dispatched on loan to Atletico who had a vacancy after the high-profile departure of David De Gea to Manchester United.
While De Gea’s initial United performances were patchy, Courtois has been a revelation – instrumental in Atletico’s 15-match unbeaten Europa League campaign and recording 14 clean sheets in the league. The six foot six inches tall Belgian has also received international recognition, making his debut in a goalless draw with France in November. All of this has been achieved before his 20th birthday, which comes on Friday.
His big break came last season, keeping 14 clean sheets in 40 league games as Genk won the Belgian Pro League title.
Inheriting De Gea’s number 13 shirt, Courtois kept four clean sheets in his first six league appearances but has also endured his share of setbacks. He conceded five at the Nou Camp in a thrashing at the hands of Barcelona and was dismissed for a professional foul early in a 4-1 loss in the Madrid derby. The manager that signed him, Gregorio Manzano, was also dismissed before Christmas and replaced by Diego Simeone, but Courtois has overcome these setbacks and suitably impressed both managers.
Having defeated Valencia in the semi-finals, Atletico face the darlings of this season’s Europa League campaign when they line up against La Liga peers Athletic Bilbao in Bucharest. Marcelo Bielsa’s charges have stormed their way to the final with an intense, fluid style of play, leaving Lokomotiv Moscow, Manchester United, Schalke and Sporting Lisbon in their wake. Courtois will be tasked with keeping the likes of Fernando Llorente, Markel Susaeta and Iker Munian at bay in the biggest game of his career thus far and in front of a global audience. But he will not be fazed by the challenge.
At his Atletico unveiling Courtois was asked whether he was relishing the prospect of playing in front of 55000 fans at the Vicente Calderon. According to the Daily Mail, he responded by revealing that: “The pressure is something that doesn’t affect me, it’s something that makes me play better.” His subsequent performances have testified to that, with Jose Mourinho believed to be a keen admirer.
Eager to remain at Atletico, Courtois recently revealed to TalkSport: “I am 95% going to continue here. There are small details between Atletico and Chelsea, but I think I will be ready soon.” Whether or not an extension can be agreed, it is possible that Chelsea could loan Courtois to another English side at some point to introduce him to the more physical, cross-orientated Premier League.
With Petr Cech in fine form, it would appear that Courtois may have to bide his time before he is able to challenge for regular first-team football at Stamford Bridge. He returned to Chelsea during the Primera Liga’s winter break and impressed his employers in training. They are thought to be closely monitoring his progress and will be keenly observing on Wednesday with a vested interest.
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