In the last Christmas message from Jürgen Klopp, a classic of the liturgy grid Every December 25, only one proper name was heard: “Mr. Courtois had a very good day,” lamented the German coach when he had to remember the Champions League final against Madrid. A minute earlier he had softened by confessing that he never ends parties without seeing Love Actually, but the review of what happened last May in Paris overshadowed the speech. For him, as for almost everyone, there was no other reason for Liverpool’s defeat than the Belgian. “The easiest to explain,” he said that night.
Since then, the lives of both, coach and goalkeeper, have drawn more than one curve. Very especially in the case of the Teuton and his battered team, but the one with the white stalk has not run in a straight line either after the rush of Saint-Denis. It had been seven seasons, since his second campaign at Chelsea, that he had not missed so many games (10) due to physical problems. In October he suffered what the club reported as sciatica – “more of a back problem than a nerve problem”, they specify in Courtois’s environment – a very uncomfortable ailment that was not easy to detect and that forced him to an infiltration program which is still going on. And two weeks ago he was attacked by an overload in the adductor of his right leg from which he has recovered just in time for the first leg of the round of 16 at Anfield (21:00, Movistar Champions League). A mishap that stopped its great post-Qatar growth.
While almost all of his fellow World Cup players have been waking up very little by little – some still haven’t fully woken up – the goalkeeper’s real return was immediate. Until Doha, his deployment had been discreet, but his return to routine boosted his contribution, interrupted 15 days ago by the injury in Mallorca with which he did not want to take risks in terms of recovery.
If before the World Cup he had prevented 1.4 goals in 15 games, according to Opta’s metrics, then he has saved 3.8 goals in just 10 games. In the League, his save percentage has multiplied: 68.4% until November (19th in the ranking) to 89.5% (leader) since Christmas. Unpublished in Pamplona, the Anfield whirlwind will once again measure its ability to return after another break. There he will cross paths with Mohamed Salah again, whom he embittered the most in Paris. Both, teammates at Chelsea in 2014, shared photos and a joke in the company of Eden Hazard in Belgium’s last friendly before the World Cup, against Egypt in Kuwait.
Mo Salah finally got his revenge on Courtois as Egypt beat Belgium 2:1 in an International Friendly ✌?
Look how happy he is ?
?: VIRGINIE LEFOUR (Getty Images) pic.twitter.com/QSLe0aTgWn
—Sports Brief (@sportsbriefcom) November 18, 2022
The Anfield appointment also supposes the return of Courtois to England, with which he settled accounts as soon as he raised the orejona. In the previous months, he had not wasted the opportunity to protest not having been included in the top 10 goalkeepers by a British magazine (FourFourTwo), which he considered a lack of respect and even a personal matter. “Yesterday I saw funny things coming from England”, he started after winning the Champions League. “I suppose it has to do with the way I came out of Chelsea, but I’ve won two Premiers and I don’t think I’ve been recognised. After my first year in Madrid, which was not very good, a lot of people laughed at me, and now I am here as a winner”, the Belgian retaliated, who had already released the phrase of the controversy in the previous one: “Now I am on the good side of history [el Madrid]”.
Concern for his family before the final
He had arrived at English football in 2014, after conceding Ramos’s goal in Lisbon, and during the first month he lived in a London hotel, when he went out into the street he always found a huge television poster sky sports with the image of the Sevillian’s header. His in Paris against Liverpool was also a personal matter.
Before his deployment without equal (his nine saves were a record in a Champions League final since at least 2003-04), he had to negotiate with personal concern for everything that was happening outside the stadium. Just ten minutes before the game was due to start after the delay, he picked up his cell phone and wrote to a member of his team to make sure everyone was safe. His children and his mother had to enter through a different door than his parents, his partner, and other members of his closest group, including his cook. The confirmation that the safety of his relatives was guaranteed ended up focusing him on a performance to remember, despite the groin pain that had been giving him trouble for some time. “He is very analytical and the best thing is that he naturalizes everything. The hours before he did nothing special, ”they say from around him.
Klopp did not see the Paris final again until this week. He did it alone and without sound. “It was like torture. Now I know why I didn’t see it before, ”he confessed this Monday, aware that, beyond Madrid’s infinite survival instinct, his defeat had a name: Courtois.
You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook and Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.