David James, who holds the record for most clean sheets recorded in the Premier League era, believes Thibaut Courtois could lose his place as Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper to Asmir Begovic this season.
The retired goalkeeper, 45, has warned the Belgium international that he must replicate the irrepressible form he showed with loan club Atletico Madrid in order to remain first choice at Stamford Bridge.
James, who now works as a pundit for BT Sport, was disappointed with Courtois last season - even though the 23-year-old played his part in helping the Blues win their first Premier League title since 2010.
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“Courtois won the league and didn’t concede that many goals, but he didn’t have the sort of season you’d associate with his seasons prior to that when he was at Atletico Madrid,” James was quoted as saying by the Mirror.
“He [Courtois at Atletico] was like Cech, he was a monster. I couldn’t wait for him to come to the Premier League and thought Cech’s record of only conceding 15 goals in a season would be under threat.
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"But it didn’t transpire like that.
“His age [is his weakness]. He’s young. Joe Hart gets his Premier League debut and his career goes like that.
“When he wasn’t at his best he was supposedly finished and everyone said City needed a new keeper. There has to be a drop in form at that age.
"Maybe last season was Courtois’ comparative drop.”
Courtois made a couple of errors - but was still superb
Courtois certainly made a few uncharacteristically poor mistakes last season - his attempted dribble against Hull City at the KC Stadium and, of course, being beaten by a 65-yard strike by Stoke City’s Charlie Adam instantly spring to mind - but on the whole he was still fantastic for Chelsea.
In fact, Courtois was arguably the second-best goalkeeper in the Premier League last term behind Manchester United’s David de Gea.
James hails Asmir Begovic
However, James believes Chelsea’s new back-up goalkeeper Asmir Begovic has the ability to edge in front of the Belgian unless his form improves this season.
“Asmir is a very, very good goalkeeper. Courtois came with a massive reputation and I was his biggest fan at Atletico,” the former Liverpool and Portsmouth keeper added. “Last season maybe it was new to him but he’s going to have to improve this season otherwise Begovic will have an opportunity to really fight for that position.
“I know, historically, [Chelsea manager] Jose Mourinho isn’t frightened to drop key players. He did with Cech a couple of years ago and told him to buck his ideas up. He did with Iker Casillas at Real Madrid.
"If Asmir gets his chance, he’s good enough.”
Begovic made his debut for Chelsea, following his £8 million move from Stoke City, against New York Red Bulls last month.
The Bosnia & Herzegovina international didn’t enjoy the best of starts, however, conceding four goals in 26 calamitous second-half minutes as Chelsea slumped to a surprise 4-2 defeat to the MLS outfit.
James is being harsh on Courtois
While there’s no doubt that Begovic is a fine goalkeeper in his own right, the 28-year-old is not in the same class as Courtois.
In truth, James is being extremely harsh on Courtois, who is already one of the best goalkeepers in world football alongside De Gea and Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer.
Jose Mourinho knows precisely what Courtois is capable of, and is only likely to drop the 23-year-old if he needs a rest.
Chelsea fans: is there any danger of Thibaut Courtois being dropped in favour of Asmir Begovic this season? Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below!