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Real Madrid Season Preview 2018/19: Goalkeepers

Will it be a yearlong battle between Keylor Navas and Thibaut Courtois? Who is Andriy Lunin and what makes him an elite prospect?

Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Super Cup Previews Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

On August 13th, Julen Lopetegui announced his squad list for the upcoming European Super Cup clash against city rivals Atletico Madrid. No less than five goalkeepers were a part of his 29-man squad list. Keylor Navas, Thibaut Courtois, Andriy Lunin, Kiko Casilla, and Luca Zidane all flew out to Estonia. A position that arguably lacked depth last season is now overstocked with a surplus of talent. With the transfer window coming to a close in the next few weeks, the likelihood of all five goalkeepers still remaining at the club is close to nil. So what can we expect from the men between the sticks:

Keylor Navas

Age: 31

Appearances in ‘17/’18: 38

AVG Save per 90 minutes: 3

Percentage Saves: La Liga—76% UCL—65.2%

Clean Sheets: La Liga—6 from 25 appearances; UCL—2 from 9 appearances

Keylor Navas, the three time defending UCL goalkeeper returns to Real Madrid beginning his 5th season with the club. “The Panther” has earned the love and adoration from all Madridistas and his teammates for his unbelievable work ethic, humility, and attitude. Despite the constant rumors season after season, Keylor Navas has put in big performances each year and was a crucial factor behind the three consecutive Champions’ League triumphs. This year, the rumors have finally come to fruition as Thibaut Courtois was brought to the club. Most of the Spanish media, wrongly or rightly, felt Keylors time was most likely up, but the Costa Rican had other ideas: “I want to leave Real Madrid as much as I want to die” Keyor said while speaking to Onda Cero. Keylor loves the club, loves the city, the fans, and his teammates. He deserves the utmost respect for what he has achieved with this club, which he has done against all the odds, but this year may well be his toughest yet.

Prediction: Keylor Navas will battle it out with Courtois all season. Keylor will likely start in the European Super Cup and Lopetegui may implement a rotation similar to what Ancelotti imposed with Iker Casillas and Diego Lopez. Keylor will possibly appear in the Champions League and Copa Del Rey while Courtois is between the sticks for La Liga. Keylor’s meager six clean sheets from 25 appearances is hardly something to boast about and will likely be the decider on why Courtois would get the nod in La Liga. Confidence and continuity are key for any goalkeeper thus the rotation policy likely will not favor either. This may will be the Costa Rica’s last year with significant playing time as he gets phased out by Thibaut Courtois. Even if Keylor performs at peak levels, the club seems to have always had an agenda to shuffle Keylor out and introduce a new, younger goalkeeper.

Thibaut Courtois

Age: 26

Appearances in ‘17/’18: 43

AVG Save per 90 minutes: 2.5

Percentage Saves: EPL—70.4% UCL—62.7%

Clean Sheets: EPL—15 from 35 appearances; UCL—2 from 8 appearances

Brought in for 35 million from Chelsea Football Club this summer after winning the Golden Gloves at the World Cup for Belgium. Aside from the World Cup, Courtois, by all accounts, had a disappointing season last year and his number reflect that. His save percentages and average saves per game were both lower than that of Keylor’s numbers. He did rack up 15 clean sheets from 35 appearances in the league which is in no doubt helped by the system imposed by Antonio Conte during his Chelsea reign. In seasons prior, like ‘14/’15 and ‘15/’16, Courtois averaged 3.5 saves per game. Talk of a distracted mind, with his family in Madrid and a contract entering its last year, may have been the reason for his dip in form. Whatever the reason, Courtois will need to be back at his operatic high to fend off competition from Keylor Navas and earn the #1 spot. Lopetegui is expected to utilize “juego de pocision” as a tactical scheme which means the goalkeeper, as is the case in the modern game, must be able to play with his feet—an area where Thibaut Courtios struggles. There is few who doubt his shot-stopping ability and his strength in commanding his box and coming off his line to intercept crosses, set pieces, or any aerial contention which is contrary to Keylor’s strengths, but his feet are a concern.

Prediction: The club have invested in Thibaut Courtois, he is coming off a huge World Cup where his confidence is high, he is looking to re-establish himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and the simple fact that he is paid more than Keylor means the advantage is in his corner. As mentioned above, a rotation policy will likely be implemented this season. If the Belgium can perform at his best level, then Keylor Navas will step down as a number two or ultimately be sold. Expect Thibaut to win the #1 spot.

Andriy Lunin

Age: 19

Appearances in ‘17/’18: 38

AVG Save per 90 minutes: 3.5

Clean Sheets: Premier Liga—10 from 36 appearances; Europa League—1 from 6 appearances

The young Ukranian was one of the most sought after talents in the game: Inter Milan, Arsenal, Juventus, Manchester City, Watford, and Liverpool had all expressed interest in signing Lunin. Reports suggested that Inter Milan and Arsenal were very close to securing Lunin, but once the keeper heard of Madrid’s interest he only had his mind set on one destination. Florentino said as much during the goalkeeper presentation, “Lunin was wanted by many teams, but he was clear in where he wanted to end up”. The goalkeeper, who was a relative unknown to many fans prior to his arrival, has looked superb in the preseason. His long ball distribution is crisp and accurate, his reflexes are of the highest level as evidenced by his goal-saving block against Juventus, and he has all the physical attributes required to be an elite prospect. Lunin is definitely one to keep your eye on and a goalkeeper that Madrid need to be careful in developing—he is a talent the club would regret losing.

Prediction: Andriy Lunin is too good and too exciting of a prospect to be a 3rd choice goalkeeper all season, even at Real Madrid. He should be loaned out to a club where he will be the undisputed starter and receive top quality goalkeeper training week in and week out. Lunin should follow a similar path to Thibaut Courtois, he should be loaned out for a number of years to develop while Madrid have a world-class goalkeeper currently operating between the sticks, and then brought back once he has proven himself at the highest levels in Europe. The excitement around Lunin and the talent-level should be equal to that of Vinicius—he is that big of a prospect and Madrid need to be decisive in their plans with him.

Kiko Casilla

Age: 31

Appearances in ‘17/’18: 17

AVG Save per 90 minutes: 1.9

Clean Sheets: La Liga—3 from 8 appearances; UCL—1 from 2 appearances; CDR—3 from 5 appearances

Kiko Casilla has been the number two at Real Madrid for three seasons. Despite his decent clean sheet record (7 from 17 appearances) last season, the drop-off between he and Keylor was far too large. Kiko is very uncomfortable with the ball at his feet and just lacks the confidence and composure from his Espanyol days. Although brief, it wasn’t long ago that Casilla was a part of the Spanish National team sqaud for his performances with Espanyol. He is a product of La Fabrica and loves the club, but his time is likely coming to an end. He and Keylor had a great relatnionship and it boded well for the chemistry within the squad, but this Madrid team is now enetering a transition and one which likely does not involve Casilla.

Prediction: Kiko Casilla will likely be sold before the transfer window closes with rumors linking him most recently to Sevilla. With Courtois, Keylor, and an elite prospect in Lunin all in front of him in the pecking order, it simply makes no sense for the player or the club for him to hang around.

Luca Zidane

Age: 20

Appearances in ‘17/’18: 1

AVG Save per 90 minutes: 3

Clean Sheets: La Liga—0 from 1 appearance

Young Luca Zidane still remains a part of the squad despite his father’s departure this year. He played one game last season in La Liga, the last game of the year against Villarreal. Many fans feel strongly that he should not even be #1 for Real Madrid Castilla, let alone get a game for Madrid, but he did fairly well in his debut vs Villarreal. The team ended up drawing the match 2-2, but Luca looked composed in possession and made a couple of good saves.

Prediction: Luca will likely be loaned or kept as the 3rdchoice goalkeeper.

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