Madrid (AFP)

Criticized in the fall, now in the running for the trophy for best goalkeeper in Liga: Belgian Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has become the emblem of the defensive severity found in Madrid, who rush towards the title before facing Athletic Bilbao Sunday (12:00 GMT).

At the head of the best defense in the Spanish Championship, Courtois seems to have become intractable, with three matches in a row without conceding a goal (16 clean sheets in total this season in 30 La Liga matches), and an average of 0.63 goals cashed in per game, making him the most impassable goalkeeper in Real Madrid history.

"A goalkeeper for a championship," headlined the sports daily Marca on Saturday, with a full-page photo of a raging Courtois.

"No Real Madrid goalkeeper has won the Zamora trophy (best Liga goalkeeper) in 12 seasons. Courtois aspires to his third title," the sports daily said, recalling that the 28-year-old Belgian goalkeeper has already raised twice with Atlético Madrid, in 2013 and 2014.

With only 18 goals conceded this season in the league, Thibaut Courtois is well above the best in the world in his post, Atlético Madrid's Slovenian Jan Oblak (25 goals conceded in La Liga) and the German from Barça Marc- André ter Stegen (33 goals conceded), and strongly contributed to placing Real (74 pts) four points ahead of rival Barça (70 pts) five days before the end.

- "Complicated passage" -

"He's a huge goalkeeper, he always shows it. I'm not going to say if he's the best in the world or not, everyone has their opinion and I mine. But what he does with us, the figures, it's impressive, "complimented Zinédine Zidane this Saturday at a pre-match press conference.

"He has shown that he is a great goalkeeper, that he is one of the best goalkeepers," said the coach at the start of the year. "After a complicated passage, as is common in a career, he got up. He knew how to keep working, not giving up, believe in what he was, and transmit energy to others . "

Because since his return to Madrid in the summer of 2018, everything has not been easy for the Belgian international at the 79 selections.

Competing with icon Keylor Navas, who participated in three consecutive Champions Leagues won by Real Madrid de Zidane between 2016 and 2018 before joining PSG in 2019, Courtois returns to the Spanish capital after a detour to Chelsea (2014 -2018), but this time at the "White House". A change of club badly lived by the supporters of Atlético, who describe it as "traitor".

In this context, the Belgian has had a difficult start, like the complicated last season crossed by the Madrilenians, before Zidane returned to the bench in March 2019.

And his start to the 2019/20 season started badly: after seven goals conceded during the first eight days of the championship, the humiliation against Paris SG at the Parc des Princes on September 19 (3-0) and the raging 2-2 against Bruges at the Bernabeu on October 1 in the group stage of the Champions League, Courtois was the target of criticism, just like Zidane, threatened.

- Oblak's records in the viewfinder -

But since then, Zidane has regained its indisputable status, Real has returned to leadership with the best defense of the five major European championships ... and Courtois has once again become a wall, solid in aerial play and good on its line.

Already pretty tight before the three months of forced break by the pandemic, Real de Courtois has become almost impassable since the resumption of the Spanish championship on June 11, with only two goals conceded in six matches (2-1 against Real Sociedad , and 3-1 against Eibar for the recovery), before his trip to Bilbao for the 34th day.

Last year, Real ended the season with 46 goals conceded, against only 21 this season five games from the end of the championship.

And Courtois will still have a goal to reach next season: the 24 "clean sheets" and the average of 0.47 goals conceded per game over a Liga season, records set by Jan Oblak in 2016 at Atlético, which are already out of reach of the Belgian this season.

© 2020 AFP