Real Madrid: Thibaut Courtois was robbed from best goalkeeper shortlist

Real Madrid, Thibaut Courtois (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Thibaut Courtois (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois should have been on the three-man shortlist for FIFA’s best goalkeeper of 2020.

Last season, Real Madrid star Thibaut Courtois was the best goalkeeper in La Liga. He won the Zamora Trophy for his performance in the 2019-2020 season, competing in the same league as noted world-class shot-stoppers Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jan Oblak.

The latter of those two made FIFA’s three-man shortlist for FIFA’s best men’s goalkeeper of 2020. Yet Courtois did not, as Manuel Neuer and Alisson Becker claimed the other two positions.

Alisson, Oblak, and Neuer may very well be the three best overall goalkeepers in the world, and I am not going to say a negative thing about any of them. But this award is for the year 2020 and for most of the year 2020, Courtois was arguably the world’s best keeper. Comparing across leagues is more difficult, but when we are looking at the statistics in La Liga, it is hard to argue Oblak over Courtois.

Last season, per, Courtois outperformed his expected goals allowed by more than Oblak. He had more clean sheets, averaged fewer goals per 90 minutes, and had a higher save percentage. Courtois was literally the best goalkeeper in La Liga in these three statistical categories, with Oblak coming in second.

In 2020-2021, Oblak admittedly wallops Courtois across the board in clean sheet percentage, save percentage, and goals allowed per 90 minutes. But there are two things to consider here. Firstly, the 2019-2020 season counts for more games played in 2020. And then secondly, Real Madrid’s defense is much, much worse than Atleti’s in the 2020-2021 season, so that means Courtois has faced more difficult save situations and more dangerous shots in general.

That said, it is still fair to say that Oblak has been the better keeper in 2020-2021 than Courtois when looking at just how brilliant Oblak has been, in addition to the post-shot expected goals.

But how about Manuel Neuer? His reputation is huge, and he showed up in the biggest game of the year in the Champions League Final vs. PSG with a masterclass. But this is an overall award that should reward consistency and not one memorable match.

Neuer’s stats are way worse than Courtois’. Neuer had a lower save percentage and clean sheet percentage in 2019-2020 with more goals allowed per 90. And this season, Neuer has been poor with a save percentage of 62.5% and a clean sheet in just one out of five of his games. He allows 1.60 goals per 90 minutes.

Now for Alisson. He was incredible in 2019-2020 for the Premier League champions, but, across the board, his stats were still below Courtois’. The Belgian had Alisson beat in save percentage, goals allowed per 90, and clean sheet percentage. For 2020-2021, Alisson is averaging fewer goals allowed per 90, but he has a clean sheet in just one out of four league games compared to Courtois’ 36.4 percent. Alisson is saving 70 percent of the shots he faces, whereas Courtois is saving nearly 80 (79.4). If Courtois were in a league without Oblak, he would be recognized as his league’s best keeper this season, even amidst inconsistent defending.

The data shows that when taking the entire year 2020 into view, only Jan Oblak has a resume comparable to Courtois out of these three men. And that’s not surprising, since Oblak plays for arguably the best defensive club in European football and is widely regarded as the world’s best keeper. Neuer’s big-game Champions League performances are impressive and should give him an extra boost, but they can also lead to biased evaluations that ignore consistent output.

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And in terms of consistency for the duration of 2020, it’s hard to put anyone ahead of Courtois. At the very least, he should have been on this three-man FIFA shortlist, as the data shows. Courtois’ 2019-2020 stats would have been even more impressive if we only looked at what happened in 2020, too, since he had some struggles at the beginning of the season as Real were transitioning fully into Zidane’s tactics again. By the end of the season when Real Madrid were on their march to the title, Courtois was unbeatable. How easily FIFA seems to forget.