Almost from the moment Thibaut Courtois starred in Atletico Madrid’s win at Stamford Bridge that sent the Spanish side in to the Champions League final at Chelsea’s expense, the Belgian was rumoured to make a return to the club.
After his loan ended and he returned to the Blues, the debate began over who would take up the number one spot. We now know that Courtois is the club’s first choice, meaning club legend Cech has started just three times all season. The situation is remarkably similar to how Cech started his Stamford Bridge career, with both joining at 22 and competing with a 32-year-old rival, with both newcomers taking the number one spot.
But, while their arrivals at the club have been so similar, how do their starts compare? Here we take a look at the stats from Cech’s start in ‘04 and Courtois’ start in the last few months. Obviously, Cech won the title with Chelsea that season, something Pensioners will hope is a good omen, and his performances in goal helped them to that title in record breaking style.
The draw with Manchester United, where Courtois picked up the man of the match award just before conceding a late equaliser, was the Belgian’s 10th full game in the Chelsea goal. He has made 11 appearances, but after coming off early against Arsenal that game couldn’t really be counted.
Both players split their opening 10 games between Premier League and Champions League, playing eight times in the league and twice in Europe. In his first ten games for Chelsea, Cech conceded just twice, keeping eight clean sheets as Chelsea won eight and drew two. That left the Blues 2nd in the Premier League table, but of course they would go on to win it, setting all kinds of records along the way.
In Courtois first ten games, we’ve seen a lot more goals. The Belgian has conceded 10 goals in his opening ten, keeping just three clean sheets. The Blues have won seven and drawn three of his first ten games. Of course, that has seen the Blues go top of the Premier League and take control of their Champions League group.
Given that Cech conceded just 15 league goals in his first Chelsea season, he seems to be far in front of the current number one. This season the Blues have struggled for clean sheets, which has led to unnecessary draws against the likes of Schalke, Man City and United. Courtois has conceded nine so far in the league, but that’s not completely his fault. When looking at both players’ starts, you have to consider how much the league has changed in ten years.
Chelsea’s total of 72 goals last season was considered not good enough to win the title, given that Liverpool and City, who finished above them, scored 101 and 102 goals respectively. Chelsea’s title winning sides that Cech played in in 2004/05 and 2005/06 scored 73 and 72 goals in the league on their way to the title. Even Arsenal’s “Invincibles” in 2003/04 managed just 73 goals, and they were roundly praised for attacking football.
While Courtois’ stats don’t compare to Cech’s, racking up that many clean sheets and winning games 1-0 doesn’t seem to work in the Premier League anymore. The competition is much more competitive and far more attack minded. Moreover, this team doesn’t quite match up to the trio of John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and Claude Makelele that Cech had in front of him.
Winning the league now takes an attacking side who can score goals, and that wasn’t Chelsea’s strong point ten years ago. Last season’s disappointments have seen Jose Mourinho change his team to be more attacking, primarily through the additions of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. While that seems like a necessary step to take, it is having an effect on their defence, which explains why their backline today ships so many more goals than ten years ago.
Even still, Courtois’ performances have more than certainly been up to scratch. He’s playing in a less experienced, more attacking team, and it’s hard to blame him for many of the goals that Chelsea have conceded this season. You can see that those extra goals haven’t harmed the Blues this year, given that they’re higher in the table than they were ten years ago, and they’ve made an unbeaten start. Just as importantly, the young Belgian stopper is yet to make a mistake in the Chelsea goal.
The main test for Courtois will be in a few months’ time in the run in, when he’ll need to provide big performances. While they’re scoring enough goals at the minute, in the latter stages of the league and in the cups they’ll need to protect narrow wins, and that’s when the keeper needs to be at his very best. Thus far the impressive keeper has shown all the attributes he needs and we’re convinced that when the going gets tough, Courtois will really prove his worth.
Choosing between Cech and Courtois is no easy task and thankfully not one we had to make. It’s a tough decision that Mourinho faced but what a wonderful problem to have and Blues everywhere should be delighted with the goalkeeping strength at the club right now.