Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has been little more than a brightly-clad spectator over the last six matches. He sees so little action during the match he needs extra drills during half-time to maintain his focus.
Normally six consecutive clean-sheets is a sign that a team’s goalkeeper is an impenetrable wall. In Chelsea’s case, Thibaut Courtois’s only direct contribution to the 17-0 scoring run has been a single save against Middlesbrough.
Chelsea’s high-press defense and mastery through midfield limits Courtois’s activity. He will mop up the occasional clearance, collect a back-pass from Gary Cahill or David Luiz and every once in a while pull down a corner kick. Beyond those isolated moments, Courtois has plenty of time to take up hobbies between the pipes.
Since his outfield players preclude his involvement in the game, he waits until half-time to work with Chelsea’s goalkeeping coach.
"Like against Everton I had nothing to do but you have to keep your mind focused until the referee blows his whistle. At half-time I did some extra warming up with Gianluca Spinelli because it was a cold day and I wanted to get the feeling of the ball. Obviously that helps if you have to make a save. – Chelsea FC"
Thibaut Courtois’s statistics are particularly vulnerable to skewing given Chelsea’s dramatic transformation under the 3-4-3. The Belgian has 17 saves on the season. Sixteen of those came in the first six games. Courtois conceded nine goals in the first six games, and saved the one shot he faced since. Consequently his saves-per-goal ratio is preserved at 1.89, through no fault or effort of his own.
Courtois is on pace to exceed either of his seasons on loan with Atletico Madrid. Courtois had 20 clean sheets out of 37 games in each season. He made 60 saves in 2013/14 and 72 saves in 2012/14. Strictly numerically he is on pace for about 53 saves and 21 clean sheets. But that ignores the discontinuity in his and Chelsea’s form after the Arsenal game.
Despite the reduced shot-stopping, Courtois is handling the ball at a similar rate to previous years. He is averaging over eight short passes each game, a career high. His total number of passes per game is less than his last two seasons at Chelsea, but is comparable to his years at Atletico.
The higher proportion of shorter passes and reduction in number of long passes is another product of the 3-4-3. Courtois has better options and a better formation in front of him than in years past. By playing the ball short to Luiz or Azpilicueta, in particular, he overcomes the need to loft a 50-50 ball towards midfield.
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This shows up on the stats sheet as an improved passing accuracy. Courtois’ distribution is a career-best 70%, over 10% higher than his average of the last four seasons.
Given his loose lips (we can think of two ways to interpret that – choose for yourself), we normally think the less said about Thibaut Courtois the better. His stats this season are just one more reflection of Chelsea’s total success under Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3. He has plenty of time to work on his next fax to Diego Simeone while the Blues keep the ball up the pitch.