Before the beginning of every La Liga season the bookies, sports analysts, journalists and fans always make the teams from Barcelona and Madrid as favourites for the title. This season is no different although the team from Madrid is not who everyone expected it to be. Real Madrid are traditionally the team to challenge Barcelona for the La Liga title but this year they have been left behind by their neighbours, Atletico Madrid, who currently sit joint top with Barcelona.
One of the stories of their season is their young goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, who is on loan at the Estadio Vicente Calderón from Chelsea. Over the course of the season, he has only conceded 11 goals all season – the lowest by any team in La Liga! His performances have attracted the attention of clubs such as Barcelona, who are rumoured to want to take him to the Camp Nou. With such hype surrounding him, we used the stats at our disposal from Atletico’s games in La Liga so far to see if he really is that good.
The first thing that we noticed was that he made no mistakes when it came to low risk shots. The average keeper would have conceded 1 goal from such shots whereas Courtois did not concede any goals. That being said, goalkeepers don’t just face low risk shots so we looked a little deeper and discovered that Atletico’s opponents were restricted to make only 10 shots on goal that had a likely chance of being a goal. Courtois was already out of his goal for one of these shots following a ground cross so he was not in a position to make a save. From the remaining 9 shots on goal, however, he only managed to save 1 of them. He also scored an own goal in Atletico’s only defeat this season against Espanyol. Out of the 4 medium risk shots that he faced, he did manage to save 3 of them, conceding only one.
This means, essentially, that you could place an average goalkeeper in the Atletico goal and you would get similar statistics. So clearly Courtois has not been as spectacular this season as the hype would like us to believe. If this is case, the question remains as to reason for Atletico’s defensive success. To answer this, we expanded our research to include the defensive players of Los Indios.
|Goals per game||2.8||0.6|
|Shots per game||15.3||8.4|
|Shots on target per game||6.9||2.3|
|Building attack actions per game||427.5||479.1|
|Pre chance actions per game||53.9||28.2|
|Chances created per game||10.9||3.9|
|Live ball possession||47%||53%|
Despite the fact that their opponents have more possession than them and thus are involved in more attacking build ups, the Atletico Madrid players are very efficient when it comes to the things that count. Their second defensive line, this being the defensive line protecting the goal and based well within their defensive half of the field, is almost impenetrable. We see this from the fact that their opponents have 479.1 building attack actions per game – these being the actions whereby the opposing players attempt to build an attack on the Atletico goal – as compared to the 427.5 attacking actions per game that Atletico have. Yet when it comes to actual chance creation, essentially the next level of an attack, Atletico have 53.9 such pre chance actions whereas their opponents only have 28.2.
As we get closer to goal, we see that the opposition has been even further restricted to a mere 3.9 chances, on average, from where a comfortable shot on goal could be taken. This is significantly lower than the 10.9 chances that the Atletico players create for themselves. Further, the Atletico defence restricts their opponents to a lowly 2.3 shots on goal per game whereas they have 6.9 on target shots per game.
We see from this, in fact, that it is the Atletico defence who should be getting all the plaudits as they have been doing an excellent job in protecting their goalkeeper. As for Courtois himself, he needs to improve in dealing with the high risk chances that he faces if he is to be considered a great keeper.