Contrasting performances from the Blues' current No.1 and his heir apparent show that Jose Mourinho would be crazy not to start the Atletico Madrid loanee next season
By Peter Staunton
If Jose Mourinho was looking for evidence that now is the time to dispense with Petr Cech and recall Thibaut Courtois from his Atletico Madrid loan exile then the Champions League quarter-finals will have provided plenty.
"We had clear chances to make it 2-1 but, because of Courtois, we're leaving with a draw," Barcelona defender Marc Bartra told reporters following his side's quarter-final first leg against Atleti.
Bartra had just witnessed one of the finest goalkeeping performances in Champions League history as Courtois made save after save to deny Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and others. He nearly got a hand to Neymar's equaliser for good measure.
Meanwhile, Cech was being beaten at his near post in injury time as Chelsea fell to a 3-1 defeat against Paris Saint-Germain in France. He was slow to Ezequiel Lavezzi's opener and uncertain under the high ball as David Luiz's own goal made it two.
In a game of such magnitude, the goalkeeper - and moreover a senior figure - needs to be relied upon but he is no longer the type of goalkeeper who can keep Chelsea in matches that they have no right to win.
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Courtois has become far too good for Chelsea to persist with Cech. The 31-year-old's influence in the dressing room at Stamford Bridge matters no longer. The Belgian is the better man for the job. Any club in the world would have to pay £35 million-plus to secure the services of such a talent but, for the Blues, he would come in for nothing. Now they must sow the seeds of change.
Cech was around the same age as Courtois when he announced himself as a rival for the established Carlo Cudicini's place in the Chelsea first team. Mourinho should set Courtois upon the Czech in a similar manner. He was a confident boy in signing for the Blues, stating as a teenager that he had been bought to replace Cech - then regarded as one of the best in the world.
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"I'd put the best in," former Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink told Sky Sports this week over Chelsea's goalkeeping puzzle. "That's Courtois."
Chelsea still hold all the power in regards to the Belgian's future. Atletico's president, Enrique Cerezo, wants Courtois to stay but the club are stony broke. Only through either the Blues' extraordinary good will - or extraordinary stupidity - should he be lining out at the Estadio Vicente Calderon next term.
The 21-year-old stated on Saturday that no other club is in the picture for his signature and that it will be either Chelsea - for good - or Atletico for another season. "Next week it will become clear where I'm playing next season," he told Sporza after Atleti overcame Athletic Bilbao in a match in which he again excelled.
"It's certain that it will be Chelsea or Atletico and no other club. I can't say much more about it but, in the next weeks, there will be official news."
The keeper will have two more seasons remaining on his contract at the end of the campaign, having signed a five-year-deal when he joined from Genk for €8m (£6.6m) in 2011. Mourinho is relaxed about the situation but Paul Pogba's form at Juventus after Manchester United dilly-dallied over his contract shows what happens when promising players have enough of being on the outside looking in. He will agitate to leave if he is not made first choice.
There is no doubt that Cech remains a quality goalkeeper. Nonetheless, he has slipped from his perch as one of the world's pre-eminent exponents of the art. In that context, he has been usurped by the young and brilliant Courtois.
Mourinho has begun his overhaul of his loyal cadre of Chelsea lieutenants. Ashley Cole is more or less out of the picture. Frank Lampard plays less and less. The manager must now rid himself of the goalkeeper who served him well a decade ago and look to the future.
It is time for Thibaut Courtois to come home.