This is the first in a five part series examining the units which will be pitted against each other on May 24. The next part in the series will focus on the defensive lines.
Comparing and contrasting goalkeepers is a dodgy proposition. Keepers are probably more reliant on their outfield teammates than any other position on the pitch. Looking at raw goals conceded can be misleading as on has to take into consideration style of play, the defense in front of the goal, opposition, etc. However, the job must be done so let's take a look at the two stars who'll be tending the old onion bags!
I make it no secret that I covet Courtois. Not only do I think he's the best keeper alive, I think he's one of the world's best player no matter the position. The 22 year old loanee from Chelsea has been an absolute rock for Atletico Madrid at the back and has an astounding 29(!) clean sheets to his name in all competitions. Of course, his world class defense should also be given credit for this accomplishment but on numerous occasions they've required Courtois to bail them out and he's come through in a big way. Real Madrid can attest to this, from his saves in last year's CDR final to the saves he made in the 2-2 draw at the Calderon.
Blessed with great height (6'4), a huge wingspan and the reflexes of a cat jacked up on a gallon of energy drinks, Courtois has conceded an average of .55 goals in the Champions League while keeping clean sheets in five of the 11 games for Atleti so far. His league numbers are just as impressive but we'll focus on the Champions League. He makes an average of 1.82 saves per game while keeping an average of four saves in between goals. He's not the kind of keeper who will come bulldozing out of the net on lofted balls, but will rather rely on his superb reflexes to stay in the net and make a last second save.
Where he does have a chink in his formidable armor, though, is his left side. While it's not a grave concern for Atleti fans, a sizeable proportion of the goals he's conceded have come to his left and lower to the ground. A big man like him, even with his outstanding reflexes, has a much tougher time dropping low as compared to a smaller keeper with a lower sense of gravity. As mentioned before, he's not keen on rushing out of the box so overloading the area on set pieces could be a source of success for Real Madrid and he's not the greatest distributor either. Finally, Courtois has a sometimes bad habit of punching balls away instead of holding on to them, therefore it will be imperative that Real Madrid player stay alert for any potential rebounds which might come their way.
What is there to say about the saint that his record and trophy collection don't already say? The man who has been tending the net for the bast umpteen years is considered by most to be one of the greatest keepers of all time and even though the ongoing saga of his starting gig is still on everyone's minds, he's shown that he still has what it takes to be considered an elite keeper.
While we talk about Courtois' unreal reflexes, there might not be a keeper alive who thrives more off of his gut instincts than Casillas. Keeping a clean sheet in six out of the 12 Champions League games he's featured in, Iker is conceding an average of .67 goals a game while saving an average of three shots per game and 4.5 shots per game in between conceding goals. At one point this season he was letting in a goal every 201 minutes, which is just plain absurd. Iker shines best in one-on-one situations, whether in open play or in penalty kick scenarios. He also tends to opt for the shorter distribution, thus playing it safer and not risking turning over the ball. It will be interesting to see if he plays it short given Atleti's high pressing mentality, or if he bombs it deep to try and hit them on the counter.
Where Iker is not legendary is in the air and rushing out to claim balls. Much like Courtois, Casillas is best served when he stay on the line and makes saves from the net as opposed to rushing out to fight for a ball in the air. Given his smaller size (6'), Real's defenders will have to be on point when dealing with Atleti's aerial barrage. Like Courtois, Iker also has a habit of going for the bunch rather than the claim, especially on aerial duels, and his distribution can leave on wanting for more at times. However, he's undoubtedly more experienced and especially when the lights are brightest so we should not have to worry too much about nerves getting the best of him.
I'm not of the impression that the aggregate 5-0 victory Real enjoyed in the CDR is a true indication of Atleti, and Courtois', quality. Deflections and penalties aren't commonplace events so I think that Real will have a very difficult time putting balls past Courtois. Iker has the experience of final pressure as well as a track record which should be of comfort to Madridistas, especially in penalty kick scenarios (Iker has saved 25 of 105 penalties in his career, Courtois has saved four of 14 in his). However, as amazing of a career as Iker has had, I think it's Courtois' world we're living in and I have to give the slight advantage to the young Belgian.