Real Madrid are cool as f*ck – Thibaut Courtois’ icy Cruyff turn proved it
For a moment, Kai Havertz’s eyes lit up.
Dani Carvajal’s back pass was inviting, a gentle roll to his goalkeeper as Chelsea forced Real Madrid to concede more and more territory.
This was a high-pressure moment. The score was 3-2 on the night, 5-4 to Real Madrid on aggregate. There were ten minutes of extra time remaining. Chelsea were on the hunt.
Thibaut Courtois’s first touch needed to be good. Ideally, he would follow that with an emphatic thump up the pitch. No messing about.
Real Madrid needed to get stick to basics. Do the simple things right and make sure there were no unnecessary late errors.
But Courtois wasn’t interested in that.
There is, and has been for many years, an unwavering coolness about Real Madrid in the latter stages of the Champions League. The players are conscious of it, even when things seem to be slipping from their control.
What else could possess a goalkeeper to do what Courtois did?
With a minuscule margin for error, the Belgian received the back pass, controlled it, observed the onrushing Havertz, and made his decision.
In real-time, it was over in three seconds. Havertz charged in and Courtois pulled out a perfectly-executed Cruyff turn, one which might even have made the great Dutchman proud.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 12, 2022
Given the circumstances, it was bold. Had it gone wrong, there would have been nowhere to hide for the goalkeeper, surrounded by the steep, unforgiving stands of the Bernabeu.
But it didn’t go wrong. Courtois strolled out with the ball at his feet and time to pick out a team-mate, and Real Madrid were able to play out from the back.
There was no panic, no self-doubt, even after a second leg that had been dominated for large periods by Chelsea.
Courtois had picked the ball out of his net three times, witnessed a stirring comeback, and then disregarded all context to sell Havertz with one of the most outrageous pieces of skill from a goalkeeper in Champions League history.
The moment almost embodied Real Madrid’s undying spirit in this competition. “Giving up,” Luka Modric wrote on Twitter after the game, “is not an option.”
This was far from the first time Los Blancos had defied the odds to progress in the knockout stages. In fact, the last-16 tie with Paris Saint-Germain was another example of it.
After losing the first leg 1-0 in the French capital and falling a goal behind in the second leg to a Kylian Mbappe strike, Carlo Ancelotti’s side looked down and out. But they struck back through a 17-minute Karim Benzema hat-trick to reach the last eight.
• • • •
• • • •
There is an unerring composure about Real Madrid. They can’t be flustered, can’t be knocked off their stride, because they have seen too much, experienced too many unlikely victories to concede defeat.
They have a manager, too, who never so much as breaks into a sweat on the touchline. Perhaps Ancelotti’s coolness is influencing Courtois and co.
It wasn’t just the audacious Cruyff turn either. Modric provided the game’s moment of true quality, lifting a sumptuous, outside-of-the-foot pass over the top of Chelsea’s defence and into the path of Rodrygo, who volleyed home to level the tie at 4-4.
The presence of mind and calmness required to pull that off was almost inconceivable for those of us simply watching on at home.
This, though, is why the elite are where they are: the ability to produce under immense pressure, to block out the noise, the doubt and invasive thoughts that would undoubtedly plague most normal human beings in such situations.
There is nothing normal, of course, about a Cruyff turn by a goalkeeper in his own box.
But this isn’t normal football. It is played with a speed and clarity of thought that can be difficult to compute.
Real Madrid are clearly not invulnerable. They were second best for large periods against Chelsea and had it not been for Modric’s brilliance would probably have been knocked out.
But their apparent inability to buckle under extreme pressure, demonstrated best by Courtois, is an enviable trait, one that might yet see them through all the way to a 14th Champions League title.