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Real Madrid have a No.1 for the big occasions

Keylor Navas has arguably been Madrid's player of the season so far.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

‘A new hero is born' declared Marca. ‘Madrid find a 12th man in Keylor Navas' ran the headline in AS. Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, Danilo and Marcelo handed Los Blancos an impressive 3-1 victory at Celta Vigo to cement their place at La Liga's summit but the talk was all about the Costa Rican between the sticks.

Navas was superb at Balaidos. "His [Navas] performance prevented us from scoring four or five goals," said frustrated Celta coach Eduardo Berizzo. "He didn't make any mistakes, he blocked shots which were heading in and allowed his team to win the match."

That Madrid scored three away from home and that Navas was man-of-the-match for many told the story. That Madrid's defence has been superb throughout this season so far is owed in no small part to the former Levante man.

It's been a long time in coming. The 28-year-old arrived at the Bernabeu with a smile from ear to ear but that smile slowly eroded away. His performances were few and far between last season, only being called upon in the seemingly more comfortably matches last season with Iker Casillas returning as first-choice under Carlo Ancelotti.

In those outings he did make he either hardly touched the ball or was so rusty that some errors crept in and that some question marks hung over him. Indeed, it seemed as though one of his final outings in the Madrid shirt came towards the end of last season against Espanyol, where Madrid cruised to victory but where the hosts' consolation goal came through an error from the Costa Rica international.

Five months on and one failed bid for David De Gea later and those question marks have been completely swept aside. Marca are right - a new hero has been born.

Navas' attitude since that move for De Gea - and his move in the opposite direction to Old Trafford - collapsed has been magnificent. The Spanish international has penned a new deal with the Premier League club but there reports of him returning to the Spanish capital next summer will not go away. Navas is doing everything in his power to ensure those reports disappear.

It could be argued that the Costa Rican has been Madrid's player of the season so far. Los Blancos have the best defence in La Liga so far with just three goals conceded in nine matches and although some of that boils down to tinkering from Benitez, plenty is owed to Navas.

Indeed, it is not as though his work has been easy. As Real Madrid goalkeeper some may expect an easy ride thanks to the players in front of you, but Madrid have suffered more shots on goal this season than they did a year ago under Ancelotti. Los Blancos have endured 110 shots on their goal in those nine matches compared to 103 last season, with 31 hitting the target. The difference has been Navas.

The goalkeeper is returning to the kind of form that attracted Madrid to his services in the first place. The cynics will point to Florentino Perez's business-centred approach to signings but when the shot-stopper arrived at the Bernabeu in the summer of 2014 he arrived on the back of a superb World Cup with his country and on the back of a brilliant campaign with Levante.

With the Valencia club, he helped them to the fifth best defence in the whole league, only behind the four Champions League clubs. That is some feat, one that saw him collect the award for best goalkeeper in La Liga for 2013-14, and his absence at Levante was apparent last season as well as this.

What he needed at the Bernabeu was a consistent run of matches and a Casillas-shaped shadow disappearing from above him. Even when he did get a run out last season the questions surrounded Casillas and his future.

Now he is flourishing. The reported tears of joy when the news came through that he would be staying in Madrid helped get Madridistas onside but that would only be for so long - the performances had to come too. Now there is little doubting his ability and the only question that remains is whether Perez and Madrid will go back in for De Gea next summer. The fact that he is set to take over from Casillas as Spain's No.1 for the next decade may weigh heavily in his favour.

If his form continues that will make life difficult for the club to pursue De Gea at the end of the season. It has been years since the Bernabeu have been chanting a goalkeepers name in unison and that can only help morale within the team and within the club.

Those cheers are even more significant given Madrid is a club that traditionally supports flair and attack over defence. While players such as Roberto Carlos and Sergio Ramos are held in high regard, it is a largely a sign of the team struggling when defenders are praised. The same could be argued now, relatively, but Navas' hero status is real.

Now fans have a genuine feeling that Navas can win them points. While gaps were plugged during the recent problematic years with Casillas with goalkeepers such as Antonio Adan and Diego Lopez, there was never a true feeling that those goalkeepers were here to stay and that they could swing matches in Madrid's favour. Now there is a feeling that Navas could be almost as important as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema or Luka Modric.

Some of the praise has to be laid at the feet of Benitez. Upon his arrival at the club he made mention of the Costa Rican when asked specifically if Casillas and De Gea could could operate at the club this season. That he placed his trust in Navas from the start helped and Madrid are now bearing that fruit.

The points Navas helped Madrid win in Galicia on Saturday were he first of what Madridistas hope will be many in the big matches this season. Los Blancos now have a goalkeeper ready for the big occasions.

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