Thibaut Courtois delivers greatest-ever goalkeeping performance in Champions League final

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Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois celebrates after his team won the UEFA Champions League final - SHUTTERSTOCK
Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois celebrates after his team won the UEFA Champions League final - SHUTTERSTOCK

There was no doubting the furious motivation for Thibaut Courtois as he produced the best performance ever from a goalkeeper in a Champions League final to deny Liverpool and ensure Real Madrid won the competition for a 14th time.

"Today I needed to win a final for my career, for all the hard work to put respect on my name as I don't think I get enough respect, especially in England. I saw a lot of criticism even after a great season,” the Belgium international said and there is no doubt he is still feeling sore for the criticism he faced after forcing his way out of Chelsea in 2018.

Does he not get enough respect? Now 30, Courtois clearly feels that he does not receive the recognition he deserves especially when it comes to discussions as to who is the best goalkeeper in the world which was, maybe, even more relevant for him given Alisson was at the other end of the pitch in Liverpool’s goal.

"Yesterday in the press conference I said that when Madrid plays finals they win. I was on the good side of history,” Courtois added. "I saw a lot of tweets coming my way that I would get humbled today it was the other way round.”

Real head coach Carlo Ancelotti was effusive. “Trust me I cannot believe what Thibaut Courtois did tonight, guys. Unbelievable,” he said of Courtois’ display and it was just that. The statistics were remarkable as was the defiance.

Thibaut Courtois delivers greatest-ever goalkeeping performance in Champions League final - SHUTTERSTOCK
Thibaut Courtois delivers greatest-ever goalkeeping performance in Champions League final - SHUTTERSTOCK


Indeed the nine saves that Courtois made against Liverpool were the most by a goalkeeper in a Champions League final since 2003-04, when Opta started to collect such data. Seven were from shots inside the area and several were top-quality.

With 59 saves during this extraordinary campaign, in which Real have beaten Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester City and now Liverpool in the knock-out stages – when they looked like being overwhelmed in each tie – Courtois has also set a record of saves made in a single Champions League run.

Against this, Real only had four shots against Liverpool. "We played a great game,” Courtois said. “We had one chance and scored it." Undoubtedly he made the difference in what he will rightly feel was a career-defining display.

Within those nine saves against Liverpool there were three, in particular, that stood out and meant that Jurgen Klopp’s side did not score for a third final this season. Against Chelsea in the League Cup and FA Cup Finals they were denied by Edouard Mendy but went on to win shoot-outs. But in Paris Courtois remained unbeaten and apparently unbeatable meaning Liverpool became ever more frantic and snatched at chances.

The three critical Courtois saves that won Real Madrid the final

Save one: Tipping Sadio Mane's shot against the post

It felt like Liverpool had to score in the opening half an hour, and at least once, given their dominance and on 20 minutes when Thiago Alcantara threaded a clever pass through to Sadio Mane on the edge of the penalty area it looked like the breakthough would come. Mane skilfully created space away from Casemiro with one deft touch onto his right foot and unbalanced Eder Militao before shooting powerfully back across Courtois.

However, he used all of his 6ft 7in frame to dive full length to his left and finger-tip the ball onto the post. What was almost as impressive – and became a feature of his performance – was the speed in which he recovered to jump on the rebound before Mohamed Salah could reach it. It seemed Salah would have a tap-in.

Real Madrid's Thibaut Courtois in action to deny Sadio Mane - REUTERS
Real Madrid's Thibaut Courtois in action to deny Sadio Mane - REUTERS
Courtois at full stretch to keep out Mane - AFP
Courtois at full stretch to keep out Mane - AFP

Save two: Starfish stop to deny Mohamed Salah from tight angle

Into the second-half and it appeared that Courtois would finally be beaten by Salah. Yet he showed incredible reactions and improvisation to deny the forward from close-range. Salah had reached the ball from a couple of feet out and his effort was superb as he attempted to squeeze it inside the near post from a tight angle.

Real Madrid's Thibaut Courtois saves from Liverpool's Mohamed Salah - REUTERS
Real Madrid's Thibaut Courtois saves from Liverpool's Mohamed Salah - REUTERS

The goal seemed certain only for Courtois to not only get across but spread himself but also divert the volley away with his left knee. He even made himself big with both arms outstretched so that it was already a formidable barrier for Salah to attempt to beat. If he had not saved with his knee then Courtois would have done with his hands.

Real Madrid's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, left, makes a save in front of Liverpool's Mohamed Salah - AP
Real Madrid's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, left, makes a save in front of Liverpool's Mohamed Salah - AP

Save three: The crucial one-on-one against Salah

This was the ultimate reaction stop as Salah took down a long ball expertly and pushed it past Ferland Mendy and on to his stronger right foot. We all know what usually happens next. Goal. Mendy dived in but could not stop Salah who drove a fierce shot back across Courtois.

Real Madrid's Thibaut Courtois saves a shot from Liverpool's Mohamed Salah - REUTERS
Real Madrid's Thibaut Courtois saves a shot from Liverpool's Mohamed Salah - REUTERS

Not only did he stick out a right hand to block it but had a strong enough wrist to push it away from the onrushing Sadio Mane and also beyond the far post. Little wonder David Alaba spontaneously leapt into Courtois’s arms in celebration.

Real Madrid's Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois celebrates making a save with Real Madrid's Austrian defender David Alaba - AFP
Real Madrid's Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois celebrates making a save with Real Madrid's Austrian defender David Alaba - AFP
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