Tuesday night saw Keylor Navas make an emotional return to the Santiago Bernabeu, as Real Madrid hosted his new club Paris Saint-Germain in a billboard Champions League group clash.
The goalkeeper is remembered fondly in the Spanish capital for his part in their three successive Champions League triumphs between 2016 and 2018, and there’s no doubt his heroic performances remain sorely missed by the fans.
The Costa Rican left Madrid for PSG back in September, having grown tired of playing second-fiddle to Thibaut Courtois.
During pre-season, he was told by manager Zinedine Zidane that he’d be the club’s back-up shot-stopper for the upcoming campaign with the Belgian his preferred No.1.
Navas had previously shared the role with Courtois during Julen Lopetegui’s reign of terror last term, and was then completely dropped to the bench under Santiago Solari.
There was some hope for his Madrid career when Zidane re-took the helm towards the end of last season and he was brought back into the starting line-up, but it was short-lived and Courtois regained his place during pre-season.
It seems Madrid’s loss is Paris’ gain though, as Navas is thriving in France.
He’s kept six clean-sheets in Ligue 1 this season and conceded just five goals as PSG have predictably dominated the league, but it’s in the Champions League where he’s really been at his best.
PSG crave success in Europe’s premier competition and Navas has certainly played his part; keeping a clean-sheet in each of their first four group games — including their opener against Madrid, which they won 3-0, and by saving a penalty in their win over Club Brugge.
That streak of shut-outs ended on Tuesday night when Real raced into a 2-0 lead in the reverse fixture, although the Spanish giants could’ve been even further ahead had it not been for the brilliance of their former flame.
Navas made a string of top quality saves — 10 in total — including a super stop to deny Dani Carvajal from outside the box in the first-half and a point-blank block for Karim Benzema’s chance at the beginning of the second.
Zidane commented on Navas’ goalkeeping against his side after the match, saying: “He had these types of performances when he played for us. He did his job.
“I think he had four or five very good saves. But it was for them, unfortunately.”
At the other end of the field, Courtois continued to show his inconsistency in the Madrid goal after a mix-up with his defender Raphael Varane, resulting in Kylian Mbappe’s scrappy goal on the 81st minute.
There was also a heart-stopping moment for him in the first-half when he conceded a penalty and received a red card for a foul on Mauro Icardi inside the box — although both decisions were eventually reversed by the VAR.
It didn’t stop Real throwing away their lead though, with Pablo Sarabia netting a superb equaliser late on.
It’s no secret that Courtois has faced heavy criticism from the expectant Madrid crowd and the Spanish press since his move from Chelsea in the summer of 2018.
Just last month, there were rumours that Madrid were eyeing AC Milan’s keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma following Courtois’ gaffe in the 2-2 draw with Club Brugge, although he enjoyed an upsurge in form at the end of October and throughout November by keeping five successive clean-sheets in both La Liga and the Champions League.
He even broke Navas’ La Liga record of not conceding a single goal in 533 minutes of play.
But Tuesday night belonged to Navas, who once again left the Bernabeu with the crowd chanting his name after another showstopping performance.
His ability to pull off the spectacular on the biggest stage often made the difference for Madrid, and PSG will certainly be looking to their new goalkeeper for inspiration if they want to finally succeed in Europe.
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