Despite a series of superb saves that kept Chelsea in the game for 80 minutes, a brief lapse in concentration from Belgian shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois cost the Blues dearly.
In a jaw-dropping 1-0 defeat to newly promoted Bournemouth on Sunday, the crisis at Chelsea reached a new low. The introduction of Diego Costa at half-time proved futile with the Blues’ poor performance rolling on beyond the break.
The most prominent selection choice made by Jose Mourinho, however, was not the decision to bench Costa for the second consecutive game, but the return of Courtois.
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After knee surgery ruled the 23-year-old out for three months, Chelsea were keen to deploy the Belgian upon his long-anticipated return. However, questions were raised as to whether Courtois would be up to the task after such a lengthy lay-off.
Equally, though, Bournemouth at home appeared a generous fixture to mark his comeback. The Cherries hadn’t won in the league since September 19 and hosts' 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane a week previously suggested the champions were on the rise.
Courtois certainly demonstrated his quality early in the game despite the team around him proving stagnant in their creativity.
The Belgian denied Junior Stanislas and Joshua King in the early exchanges in superb fashion. Courtois was already proving that time on the medical table couldn’t starve him of his famous shot stopping.
A series of saves in the second half saw Courtois continue to execute a perfect game and stake his claim for man of the match. Although his teammates were struggling, the 23-year-old was acrobatically keeping his side in the fixture.
COSTLY LATE ERROR
However, with just seven minutes to go, Courtois highlighted his rustiness with a criminal break in focus.
Stanislas’ inviting corner was met by a feeble punch from Courtois, resulting in a chaotic scramble in the six-yard box. Although he was being impeded, the attempt to clear was embarrassing for a goalkeeper held in such high esteem.
Furthermore, upon the weak punch, the Belgian bafflingly wandered out of his goalmouth amidst the struggle. As a result, Steve Cook’s swing at goal looped over the bewildered shot stopper and into the path of Glenn Murray, who headed home.
Three months out on the sidelines was swiftly made apparent by a confusing misjudgment that saw Chelsea’s goal exposed.
Despite a string of superb saves earlier in the game, Courtois’ erratic goalkeeping ultimately heaped further despair on the Blues.
In amongst a team so dysfunctional and unable to muster any form of attacking flair, Courtois cannot be blamed for the defeat as a whole. However, the moment of madness he produced late on should not be ignored.
With Costa and co. once again proving absent in another catastrophic defeat for the champions, Courtois seems to have joined the yawning roster of Chelsea players crumbling under the spotlight.
Unfortunately for goalkeepers, no matter how many saves they make prior to an error, a game-deciding mistake will not be excused. Even though out of character, such a frail punch and questionable wander out of goal cannot be overlooked.