Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has been out of action since he suffered a knee injury in training just before his club’s September 12 Premier League tilt with Everton. An unquestioned starter for the Blues, Courtois is many people’s pick as the best goalkeeper in the game, so perhaps it’s no wonder that Chelsea has had a rather horrendous run of defence since he went down. In five league matches since Courtois’ injury, they’ve let up eight goals and conceded 11 goals in eight matches overall. That might suffice for a middling team, but for a club coached by a defensive maestro in Jose Mourinho and accustomed to the work of a top-notch keeper, it’s woefully inadequate.
But might it also position Chelsea for a nice boost when Courtois does at last return to game action? Express published a notice from Courtois himself late in September in which the goalkeeper indicated he was recovering well from surgery and could be ready for game action by November 21. That’s a significant step up from initial estimates that had Courtois missing time until December, and it makes for a nice bit of hope for a team that’s struggled unexpectedly in the Premier League campaign. The question, however, is whether Chelsea can justifiably blame its struggles on the absence of its top keeper.
One argument against this idea is the quality of Chelsea’s main backup goalkeeper. We previously highlighted Asmir Begovic as a keeper to watch in Champions League play, with Courtois set to miss most or all of the group stage. Furthermore, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has backed up Begovic as a very strong option. Begovic went to Chelsea with an eye toward competition for the starting spot anyway. While that may or may not have been a realistic goal going up against Courtois, it demonstrates his own understanding that he’s capable of being a starting calibre player.
It’s also important to note that the defence in front of the Chelsea box, no matter who’s in it, has been atrocious. Even back in August the indications were there that this was a problem area for the club, as the Daily Mail wrote up a list of five things wrong with them and noted some shocking negative defensive achievements (such as, at the time, a league leading 30 shots on target against them). In the article, Mourinho admitted to stressing defensive work due to the issues, but in nearly two months since there’s been little difference. Chelsea’s back line, frankly, is being dominated, and there’s almost no telling if Courtois could be doing much more than Begovic to keep matches even. In some cases, a keeper is only as good as his defence. With some of the holes Che
lsea is allowing to opponents’ attackers, no level of spectacular play in goal could salvage matches.
But as for whether or not Thibaut Courtois could function as something of a saviour for Chelsea’s season, it’s also worth mentioning that some believe things are starting to turn around already. Betfair wrote a recap of the Week 9 matches and pointed out that even though Chelsea righted the ship by way of a victory over a hapless Aston Villa side, the club still has decent odds to defend its title in the EPL. This is partially due to the fact that no team has distanced itself from the pack, and also partly due to the pure quality of the Chelsea roster that will surely improve once Courtois returns. Add in that between now and the expected return of Courtois, two of Chelsea’s four league matches will come against bottom-dwelling Stoke City, and it’s conceivable the Blues could be on a nice streak and gaining momentum when
their star keeper returns.
Really, Courtois ought not to be looked at as a potential saviour, but rather as an extra boost to momentum that needs to be built elsewhere. This whole club needs to wake up to some degree, but if the defence gets its act together the return of the star keeper will certainly help.