The Goalkeeping Conundrum – Cech or Courtois

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Updated: May 30, 2014

Chelsea are accustomed to the assured presence of Petr Cech between the posts for majority of the past decade. It might change soon with the emergence of Thibaut Courtois as a contender for the no. 1 kit in the Chelsea ranks. Chelsea is expected to totally revamp their squad this summer, and one of the toughest decisions Jose Mourinho & the Chelsea board will face is whom to entrust the goalkeeping duties for the first team.

Thibaut Courtois joined the Blues from KRC Genk in January 2010 and was immediately sent out on loan. As the seasons have progressed, Courtois has grown in stature. The young Belgian has amassed over 100 appearances for Atlético over the last three years and is one of the mainstays of the Spanish club. Such has been Courtois’ progress, comparisons have been drawn between him and some of the best goalkeepers to have ever played the game. And he has just turned 22 this month.

Petr Cech was 22 as well, when Jose Mourinho instated him as the first choice goalkeeper ahead of Carlo Cudicini during his first spell at the club. Ever since then, Cech has not looked back and helped Chelsea to 13 domestic & continental trophies. Even a career-threatening injury could not stop Big Pete from acquiring a record 209 clean sheets for the club, surpassing the legend Peter Bonetti in the process.

Cech’s place in the starting XI has never been questioned before the Belgian came through. Courtois announced himself on the big stage winning the coveted Ricardo Zamora Trophy in 2012-13 season and has just got better this season.

One of the focal points behind Atlético and Chelsea’s challenge for the title in their respective leagues has been their compact defense. Chelsea have conceded 27 goals this season, while Atlético just 26. Needless to say, both Cech and Courtois have played a crucial role in that. Courtois has kept 20 clean sheets in 37 appearances and Cech 16 in 34 appearances.

Cech vs Courtois

The numbers are comparable for both the goalkeepers, but Courtois beats Cech by little when it comes to minutes played for every goal conceded.

The Chelsea fan-base has long been divided over the idea of whether to bring back Courtois and hand him over the starting position come next season. Opinions contested, arguments thrown about & predictions made – the loudest calls for Courtois’ recall were heard after Chelsea lost 3-1 away to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarter-finals, owing to a not-so-solid display from Petr Cech. Cech was in direct fault for the Ligue 1 side’s third goal and was also found stranded in no-man’s land during their second. Intriguingly, en route to the final, Atlético’s had been the best defense in Europe’s premier competition with Courtois conceding just 6 goals over a course of 11 matches. Cech, who had conceded 7 times in 10, redeemed himself in the return leg, standing tall & thwarting all of PSG’s advances and even pulled off a brilliant, low save off Marquinhos’ shot in the dying minutes to send Chelsea into the semi-finals. However, doubts have lingered among most Chelsea fans & pundits alike that with slowing reflexes and tactical errors creeping into his game off late, is it time for Cech to pass the mantle to his imminent successor??

Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and Diego Simeone’s Atlético were both counter-attacking set-ups with their strengths being defending as a well-organized unit followed by a rapid onslaught towards goal. This system entails the keeper, along with the rest of the team to have the natural tendency to soak up continuous waves of pressure.

Cech vs Courtois 2

The above figures show not much separates the two at the moment. However, Courtois is on the rise while Cech has already touched the ceiling of his peak years.

Adapting to the rigours of Premier League is not an easy job. Many great goalkeepers have taken a beating while doing that. It’s not just the pace at which the game is played, but also the variety in the attacking threats from the opposition. On that note, let us take a look at the types of goal conceded by both Cech and Courtois.

Cech vs Courtois 3

The scenarios are again eerily similar, thus hammering home the fact that both Courtois and Cech are actually at par on current form.

Distribution of the ball used to be one of Courtois’ primary weakness and he has clearly worked on that front this season. In the modern era of football, goalkeepers often have to play more than one role during a match. Sweeping up loose balls in the defensive third when the team is chasing a game or quickly starting a counter-attack after stopping an opposition threat are immensely crucial. Chelsea, like most other Premier League clubs, often rely on a long ball for clearance, to restart play and as a mode of attack involving the lone man up front. So, how does Courtois fare against the man he is expected to replace??

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Petr Cech, with years of experience behind him, clearly edges over his younger competitor in this aspect. Courtois has still some distance to go in terms of matching up with the distribution rate of Cech.

What makes the situation more complex is the fact that Courtois has just two years left on his contract and there have been rumoured interests from other top clubs regarding the young Belgian. While Chelsea will not be interested to sell, Courtois would definitely prefer assurances over his permanent future before the start of the next season. At the same time, Petr Cech at 31, is still pretty young for a goalkeeper and has at least another couple of years at the top. The ideal situation for Chelsea would be to extend Courtois’ contract and recently, there have been widespread reports of him signing an extension.

When Chelsea were paired with Atlético in the Champions League semi-final draws, a prospective Cech vs Courtois sub-plot was thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, with Cech getting injured early into the first half of the first leg, that particular contest was rendered irrelevant. However, the incident must give Chelsea fans a feeling of déjà vu. A decade back, Cech stepped into the shoes of Carlo Cudicini after the latter missed pre-season with an elbow injury and made the position totally his, etching his name into the hearts of legions of Chelsea fans. Today, Cech is set to miss as long as up to August due to the shoulder dislocation he suffered at Madrid. As unfortunate as it might be, the injury might just pave Courtois’ way into Chelsea’s first team. A decade after Petr Cech arrived at Stamford Bridge, identical circumstances may lay foundations for his successor Thibaut Courtois to claim the coveted position as his.

5 Comments

  1. Oscar Puente

    June 20, 2014 at 3:56 AM

    It’s definitely eerie how similar their stats are. Chelsea are lucky to have two amazing goalkeepers. If I had to choose just one, given that they’re basically equal in terms of quality, I’d take Curtois because he’s younger, and sell Cech this summer while we can still get a good transfer fee for him.

    Fantastic write-up. I really like your graphs!

  2. Tom Gilbert

    June 28, 2014 at 9:21 AM

    I’ve been searching all over for a website that gives comprehensive reports regarding Chelsea and their players, and I think this is by far the best that I have seen.

    While Courtois seems to everyone (myself included) the obvious choice to start next season, I have a really sentimental attachment to Cech because he represents one of the last of our Old Guard. If he does leave, that would leave us with just 2 (Cahill & Bertrand) of the starting XI that brought home our UCL crown. Courtois may take some time to settle in, so really hoping for Cech-Courtois competition just like De Gea-Lindegard at United.

    • Oscar Puente

      June 28, 2014 at 3:24 PM

      Thanks! We appreciate the feedback. We’re a young site trying to make a name for ourselves, so be sure to share the wealth with people you think might be interested!

      While it would make me sad, I think the best thing for Chelsea to do is sell Cech while they can still get a good amount of cash for him. No use making him rot on the bench and then letting him go for free when his contract is up.

  3. Oakley M Frame

    August 5, 2014 at 1:53 AM

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