Thibaut Courtois late show leaves Jose Mourinho vindicated
Where to start? With the unsurprising willingness of Nemanja Matic to get stuck in? Ramires’s tireless buccaneering runs in the centre of the park? The louche touch of Gary Cahill in assisting Branislav Ivanovic’s opener? The plucky Serb’s indomitable gusto and determination? The nimble, creative feet of Willian? Maybe how Eden Hazard – so quick, silky and a constant menace to the Paris Saint-Germain resistance – excelled to showcase his vaunted qualities to his admirers, who had endeavoured tirelessly to entice him to the French capital, days after agreeing to a new five-year deal at Stamford Bridge?
Just kidding. Those are all worthy topics, worthy of discussing, dissecting and analysing, but the sight of Jose Mourinho marching over to Thibaut Courtois at the final whistle in this tight Champions League round of 16 first leg affair spoke volumes. “If football was nine outfielders and two goalkeepers, we would give no chance to anyone,” he eulogised. “We'd be phenomenal.”
John Terry felt equally indebted. “He was different class,” Terry reflected afterwards. “When you look at Petr in the week, he made two great saves from (Everton’s Romelu) Lukaku to win us three points.Thibaut came back in today. The competition is great and it is fierce amongst the squad. That’s what is needed. We are all playing a team game.”
Outstanding save to deny Ibrahimovic
It was on the stroke of the 90th minute that Courtois produced his most memorable contribution of the evening. PSG had worked the Belgian throughout, forcing him into admirable stops from Blaise Matuidi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the first-half, but this was the one that kept Chelsea in the ascendancy. 2-1 would not have been disastrous to Mourinho’s men, far from it, but 1-1 was the scoreline Mourinho would prefer.
Ibrahimovic had seen the space. Maxwell had, too. The Brazilian left-back curled the cross in-between Chelsea’s central defensive pairing of John Terry and Cahill, met duly by the onrushing Swede. Perhaps the PSG talisman will be disappointed that he did not head across goal, as young footballers are told to, but to the direction Courtois occupied. Regardless, it does little to detract from the Belgian’s last-minute heroics, leaping to Chelsea’s rescue and tipping the ball around the post.
So much for his doubters, his detractors and critics. So much for those who had chastised him for his error to gift Manchester City a point in the Premier League and his gaffe-prone display at Aston Villa. Dropped by Mourinho for the visit of Everton on Wednesday evening, the Belgian excelled at the Parc des Princes to deliver a timely riposte.
Petr Cech will rightly feel aggrieved. As Courtois watched on from the bench on Wednesday, Cech accentuated his qualities to an appreciative Mourinho, who congratulated the Czech veteran afterwards. Instinctively, he knew these were the moments, apart from Willian’s late winner, which won titles.
The game tied at 0-0, as Manchester City threatened to whittle Chelsea’s lead at the Premier League summit to five points, Cech somehow thwarted Romelu Lukaku with his feet, an outstanding reflex save which had the Bridge serenading him with acclaim. It is, perhaps, testament to the pedigree and stature of this current Chelsea side that a goalkeeper of Cech’s quality is second-choice.
Courtois vindicates Mourinho’s faith
Yet Courtois seized his opportunity to vindicate his manager’s show of faith, helping Chelsea to a slender advantage in Paris.
His first main involvement dawned on the 11th minute, producing two excellent stops in quick succession. The first was from Blaise Matuidi, an onrushing powerful header, and the second from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swede's headed effort ricocheting off the turf, forcing Courtois to contort his body to push it out.
Courtois can hardly be held accountable for Edinson Cavani’s equaliser, the Uruguayan attacker leaping, unmarked, to restore parity on the night. The effort was directed accurately towards the far post, leaving the Belgian scrambling across his goal desperately to no fruition.
But then came his stellar moment, the moment which may just keep Chelsea fighting on the European front. It did, certainly, vindicate Mourinho’s show of faith.