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Courtois in limelight as Atletico play Real in Madrid derby

February 8, 2019
 

Photo: AFP

Thibaut Courtois left Chelsea on bad terms last summer and he expects to feel the anger from Atletico Madrid fans too when he faces them in the white of Real Madrid on Saturday.

Courtois developed into one of the world’s finest goalkeepers during three years on loan at Atletico but he will be up against his former club, and Chelsea team-mate Alvaro Morata, in what could prove a pivotal city derby this weekend.

Real arrive on the back of four La Liga wins on the bounce and will jump above their opponents with a win at the Wanda Metropolitano. Atletico have fallen six points adrift of Barcelona and are attempting to stay in touch.

For Courtois, a reunion with Diego Simeone’s side is not new — he faced them twice for Chelsea in the Champions League last season and again at the Santiago Bernabeu in September — but this will be his first experience in front of the Atletico fans, in the colours of Real Madrid.

“It happens in football, it’s a derby and a derby here in Madrid is always heated. They’ll whistle and shout, everything you would expect, it’s part of football. I will always respect them. Now I’m playing for the other side,” Courtois said.

Courtois helped Atletico crack the duopoloy of Barca and Real by winning La Liga in 2014, while also lifting the Europa League, Copa del Rey and Super Cup during his time at the club.

“There are still a lot of players that I know there, the goalkeeping coach, coaches, they’re all still the same. It’s still a special match, I respect the fans and the club a lot, in the end they gave me the opportunity to play when I was just 19 years old. I only have good memories,” Courtois said.

Courtois’ season has taken a similar trajectory to his team’s. There was a shakey start, when Julen Lopetegui rotated him with Keylor Navas, before a clear improvement, with Courtois now established as Santiago Solari’s first choice.

Madrid have steadily gained momentum under Solari too and, despite a dip at the start of the year, have found their rhythm in recent weeks.

“I feel good now. It takes a little time to settle and to fully understand the team but it’s going very well now. If we want to narrow the gap and win trophies, this is the month when we have to be at our best,” Courtois said.

 
 
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