Real Madrid's Goalkeeping Battle Heating Up Between Keylor Navas, Kiko Casilla

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2015

Real Madrid's Spanish goalkeeper Kiko Casilla scores a goal during the penalty shootout of the International Champions Cup football match between AC Milan and Real Madrid in Shanghai on July 30, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE        (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
JOHANNES EISELE/Getty Images

There's nothing quite like a penalty save to elevate a goalkeeper's stock. Combine one with a successfully taken penalty, and a reputation can soar. 

Indeed, splashed across the cover of AS on Friday was Kiko Casilla, the goalkeeper who performed such a double act (and saved a Carlos Bacca shot in normal time) in Real Madrid's penalty-shootout victory over AC Milan in Shanghai.

"Casilla throws his name into the hat," was the declaration over at Marca, the Madrid-based daily going on to produce a three-point analysis of the former Espanyol gloveman and stating he "ticks all the right boxes." 

A day earlier, the focus had been on Keylor Navas. Before that, David De Gea—the man Marca declared as Madrid's "next stop." Right now, you could make a strong argument that the Real Madrid goalkeeping position is the most volatile position in the game. 

De Gea's arrival, of course, would settle the debate, ending the uncertainty. But until that occurs, what there is at the Bernabeu is an intriguing battle between two goalkeepers who have yet to fall into a clear pecking order under Rafa Benitez. 

Logic dictates that it's Navas who should be Real's No. 1. A World Cup star, a high-profile signing of a summer ago, the longer-serving of the two, Navas, in theory, deserves first crack. Yet, the Costa Rican's case is now a strange one.

Real Madrid's luring of him to the Bernabeu this time last year was essentially an act of holding open the exits for Iker Casillas while avoiding being seen as forcing him out. The situation was so delicate and divisive that a club, a city and a country had their emotions contorted and perspectives skewed, torn over how Casillas' twilight decline should be handled. 

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Basically, it wasn't handled. Not until this summer. And Navas has suffered as a result. 

CORDOBA, SPAIN - JANUARY 24: Goalkeeper Keylor Navas on the bench prior to start the La Liga match between Cordoba CF and Real Madrid CF at El Arcangel stadium on January 24, 2015 in Cordoba, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

When he arrived, he was fresh off sparkling campaigns with Costa Rica and Levante, and he seemed like an obvious solution to Real Madrid's goalkeeping problem, which had taken on a life of its own. Fast, agile and possessing rapid reflexes, Navas appeared to be a goalkeeper similar to Casillas, but with form and age on his side. Twelve months on, though, he oddly feels like a lesser keeper. 

Without playing time, without any guarantees and having been stuck helplessly in the vicious political war surrounding Casillas, Navas appears to have lost some of his conviction. There's a tentativeness to his game that became evident last season, as Carlo Ancelotti turned to him at bizarrely random junctures—acts that seemed like an attempt to simply justify Navas' signing and presence to fans.

Thus, the 28-year-old, as is often the case, has been hurt by time spent on the sidelines. Additionally, his peripheral existence until now has meant that, like Casilla, he sort of feels new this summer.

It's that point that makes this positional battle so intriguing. The absence of a dominant incumbent means doubt lingers over the question of who will emerge victorious, even though Navas has started all four of Real Madrid's pre-season games. 

GUANGZHOU, CHINA - JULY 27:  Mauro Icardi of FC Internazionale (R) and Keylor Navas of Real Madrid compete for the ball during the International Champions Cup match between FC Internazionale v Real Madrid on July 27, 2015 in Guangzhou, China.  (Photo by C
Claudio Villa - Inter/Getty Images

Interestingly, Navas' competitor is a goalkeeper of a completely contrasting essence. Bigger, heavier, more powerful, Casilla is a gloveman of presence and aerial strength. Though the Spaniard can't match the Costa Rican's shot-stopping prowess, he has clear advantages at crosses, corners and set pieces—the sort of situations that have been problematic for Real Madrid for a number of seasons. 

Casilla isn't without his flaws. Buoyed by his aerial ability, he's susceptible to major errors when coming off his line to claim high balls, his confidence sometimes giving rise to a recklessness that was particularly evident against Elche and Sevilla last term. Casilla can also be a messy distributor from the back, lacking the sort of comfort on the ball many associate with the world's leading glovemen. 

Still, what he does offer is a point of difference, a skill set that hasn't existed at the Bernabeu permanently for some time.

At his best, his presence inspires confidence. At his worst, he'll send you into anger management. But his style is new, and fans love new. With it come new strengths to savour, and new weaknesses to lament. Even though new might not mean better, fanbases feel a sense of refreshment by moving on from what has become familiar, a feeling of stasis. 

Espanyol's Spanish goalkeeper Kiko Casilla laughs during a press conference at the Power8 stadium in Cornella de Llobregat on July 17, 2015. The Catalan club announced today that Casilla signed a 6 millions euros (6,5 millions dollars) contract with Real
QUIQUE GARCIA/Getty Images

For Casilla, it could prove helpful to his case. For Navas, it's an obstacle to overcome. All he can bring is more of what the Bernabeu has seen before.

The match report from AS after Thursday's victory over Milan demonstrated how the sense of new and different can often feel better, with the Madrid-based daily declaring that "Kiko Casilla has left a better impression than Keylor Navas." Clearly, the one-off pre-season performance from the new face excited onlookers who've grown tired of the well-known. 

Thus, we have a battle: incumbent vs. newcomer, Costa Rican vs. Spaniard, shot-stopper vs. aerial monster, the guy who sort of feels new vs. the guy who is new. It's hard to guess how this one will play out. 

And yet, despite this currently being a two-man affair, both men will still be looking over their shoulder, wondering if the potential arrival of another new face might moot this whole battle.