Zinedine Zidane’s choice of number one this season could come back to haunt him when his side head to Paris on Wednesday
After five years at Real Madrid, Keylor Navas was unceremoniously sent packing to Paris Saint-Germain over the summer as Zinedine Zidane threw his full support behind Thibaut Courtois between the sticks.
With one eye clearly on the future, Madrid turned a blind eye to the past and present form of both goalkeepers – a reality that may be particularly hard to ignore when PSG host Real in their Champions League group opener on Wednesday.
Though given the vote of confidence by Zidane, Courtois has so far failed to reward his manager with the Belgian currently on his longest ever league run without a clean sheet after conceding in his 12th straight La Liga game in a 3-2 win against Levante. Despite making a crucial stop late in that match, the 27-year-old faced just three shots throughout the 90 minutes yet conceded twice.
On the same night Courtois continued his unconvincing form in goal, Navas made his debut for PSG in a narrow 1-0 win over Strasbourg with the Costa Rican quickly proving his worth.
Midway through the first-half, the 31-year-old made an excellent diving save low to his left which allowed Neymar to pop up in injury-time and score a spectacular winner .
While the Brazilian would inevitably grab the headlines, it was Navas’ super save that gave his new teammate the chance to shine – something the Costa Rican regularly did for Real without getting the full credit he deserved.
Incidentally, Navas’ time in Real began in rather disrespectful fashion when, just a year after arriving, he was nearly used as a makeweight in a deal for Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea in August 2015.
Putting that transfer drama behind him, he happily inherited Iker Casillas’ number one shirt and showed he was a worthy wearer of it.
Already familiar with La Liga thanks to his previous stint with Levante, Navas quickly impressed domestically but would truly stand out in the Champions League as he played a pivotal part in continuing Real’s continental dominance.
In 2015-16, he kept nine clean sheets across 11 Champions League appearances, conceding just three goals – as Real beat Atletico Madrid on penalties in the final. Meanwhile, in the 2017-18 campaign, Navas was decisive in the club’s semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich as he made a stunning eight saves.
“Real can thank Keylor Navas because he was spectacular and made some fantastic saves,” Jupp Heynckes said after the tie in which his Bayern side lost 4-3 on aggregate.
After claiming his 100th win for Real in the club’s 3-1 victory over Liverpool in the final, Navas was then rightly named the 2017-18 Champions League’s goalkeeper of the season to cap off a stunning few years.
Yet despite his consistent continental heroics, Real still decided to splash the cash and bring in Courtois from Chelsea that summer for £35 million.
Navas was ultimately forced to play second fiddle across the 2018-19 season, a situation that left the Costa Rican rightly quite aggrieved.
“I’ve gone from winning three consecutive Champions Leagues to not playing,” Navas told El Chiringuito last year.
With Navas stuck on the bench and Courtois unable to truly cement himself between the sticks, debate quickly raged over who should be the club’s number one.
Having happily rotated the two, Real’s manager ultimately declared he would have a clear preference this season.
“At the moment there are three good keepers and we are going to finish the season with them,” Zidane said in April.
“But I assure you that next season there will be no debate about the goalkeeper, I’ll tell you that now. It’s going to be very clear.”
That supposed clarity has seen Navas move on to PSG, with Alphonse Areola moving the other way as back-up for Courtois.
But as things stand, some are wondering if Real have let the wrong goalkeeper go, particularly as the club look towards another Champions League campaign.
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Navas, who was often the hero for Los Blancos in Europe, will now welcome his former side to Paris on Wednesday and the Costa Rican will be determined to show Zidane that he made a mistake by letting him go.
The Costa Rican was a rock for Real in the Champions League and the club may realise first hand just how invaluable his services remain if they struggle to find a way past him.
Up the other end, Courtois must put his recent poor league form behind him. If he doesn’t, then Zidane will soon face another goalkeeping headache – and one Navas will be personally delighted to compound with another Champions League clean sheet of his own.