Chelsea's season looks set to be defined by Jose Mourinho's decision to let two of the club's youngest stars go out on loan.
In the Premier League, the Portuguese manager has watched his toothless Blues strikers struggle to hit the back of the net week after week, while Romelu Lukaku racks up 13 goals at Everton. On Wednesday, unwanted goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois thwarted his parent club's dreams of reaching the Champions League final with a fine performance at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho acknowledged the Belgian shot stopper's heroics, suggesting the game was won and lost in "one minute" just before the hour mark, reported by John Cross of the Mirror. This telling period saw Courtois impressively save a low John Terry header before Samuel Eto'o fouled Diego Costa in the opposite box, who powered home the resulting penalty.
While it appeared the Chelsea boss barely wanted to acknowledge Courtois in fear of stirring controversy, he suggested the player's professional attitude helped him through, saying, "No, no, he’s the Atletico goalkeeper playing for Atletico, and he did his job,” per Cross.
Mark Schwarzer, who looks set to lose his place at Chelsea if Courtois returns for next season, was thoroughly impressed with the 21-year-old's dominance, reported by Sky Sports:
I thought he was outstanding. He had a great game tonight. If we'd been a bit lucky and he'd been a bit unlucky we could have got back in the game and there could have been a few more nervy moments towards the end for them. It wasn't the case.
The Australian said both Courtois and Petr Cech are "world-class goalkeepers," indicating the latter "still has a long way to go with his career." Although Schwarzer also posted a solid game when deputising for Cech, his continental adventure was once again ended by Atletico, who toppled his Fulham side during the 2009-10 Europa League final to secure the trophy.
Courtois' display was certainly one of the standout performances during this year's semi-final second leg. The youngster showed himself to be incredibly calm, even though all eyes were on him.
He soaked up crosses without a second thought, reacted quickly to Chelsea's opportunities on goal and even enjoyed a lucky break when Willian's free-kick was met by David Luiz, who watched on helplessly as it smashed the post and pinged toward Courtois, who instinctively pushed the ball over.
Ben Lyttleton of Sports Illustrated summed the goalkeeper's night up, saying, "the more Chelsea pushed, the more secure Courtois looked."
It remains to be seen exactly where Courtois' future lies, but on the back of this season and Wednesday's showing, Mourinho would be a fool not to welcome his starlet back for the beginning of Chelsea's next campaign.
Cech's responsiveness and reliability are beginning to wane. With Chelsea transitioning toward a younger squad, Courtois once again highlighted he is ready to be a leader in West London. He's done this all season in Spain, but vitally, he finally showed Chelsea fans that he shouldn't be considered a top prospect for the future. Instead, Courtois is very much ready to be a Premier League star of the present.
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