How Thibaut Courtois Made The Best Save Of The Champions League Semi-Finals

By Sam Hudspith, Dr John Harrison, PhD

News • May 19, 2023

How Thibaut Courtois Made The Best Save Of The Champions League Semi-Finals
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Courtois made the most difficult save over the two legs, as he and Ederson again put in the best shot-stopping performances of the round.

Last night, Thibaut Courtois staked another claim for being adorned with the label of the world’s best goalkeeper. 

Whilst his Real Madrid side may have lost out on the La Liga title, and will now not be able to better the three trophies (of the six on offer) already to their name this season, it’s undeniable that the scoreline would have been a lot heavier were it not for the firefighting Courtois undertook in the away goal. 

His counterpart, Ederson, will head to Istanbul with a chance to get his hands on the ultimate prize, but it was Courtois who won the award for the best save made in this season’s Champions League Semi-Finals. The accolade may not be the pride of the mantle place, but the means to the end were impressive enough.

Funnily enough, whilst Ederson put in the best shot-stopping performance of the round overall, the best save he made was actually the easiest of all shot-stopping actions made by the four goalkeepers involved in the Semi-Final second leg.

Ederson’s opposing number one in Istanbul will be Inter Milan’s Andre Onana. Onana, playing his first extended run of games since returning from a nine-month doping ban last November. He had a quiet outing, all things considered, against city rivals AC Milan. It was the first time that Mike Maignan, AC’s number one, had progressed past the Champions League group stage in his career to date, let alone reach the Semi-Final.

Goalkeeper xG tracked the shot-stopping on display in both Manchester and Milan. It was at the Etihad that the best overall shot-stopping performance played out, with Ederson helping City through to their second Champions League final of all time via an assured outing between the sticks. 

He made four saves in total, with a 3.37 expected save value (ExSave) based on the quality of shots he faced. This left him with a +0.63 overall shot-stopping value - the best performance of any goalkeeper across the two legs of the Semi-Final. 

The best save he made (the second save in the clip above), was from Toni Kroos in the 35th Minute. 

With City already a goal to the good, Ederson kept the scores level with a flying top left-handed save from a thunderous Kroos strike outside the box. A negligible hop to plant his feet set the basis for a powerful spring using both the contralateral (trailing left) leg for stability, and then immediately a final push off the ipsilateral leg (the leg on the side the shot is directed). Interestingly, it only drew an 80% Expected Save Probability, meaning most Premier League goalkeepers statistically make such a save. 

A clean sheet and a four goal winning margin makes the word ‘dismantling’ an acceptable descriptor of City’s victory in this case. Yet, while the goals flowed, it would have been a lot worse for Real Madrid had Thibaut Courtois not been as switched on as he was. 

Courtois made four saves against four goals conceded, but actually finished the game with a positive shot-stopping value. The Goalkeeper xG model finds that, of those saves, only 3.51 (ExSave) would be made by the mathematically average top flight goalkeeper. This means that Courtois finished the ninety with a +0.49 shot-stopping value. 

But it was his incredible save from Erling Haaland that will be the only thing sticking in the memory on what was ultimately a disappointing night for the Madrid side. Drawing an incredible ExSave Probability of only 16%, Courtois, moving laterally across goal towards his near post, sprung to his right to claw Haaland’s headed effort back across goal off the line. 

It’s undoubted that Courtois made the greatest save of all the Semi-Final matches; the only question remaining is whether Courtois is definitely the world’s best goalkeeper at the present moment. 

Over in Milan, two of goalkeeping’s perhaps underrated talents locked horns for the second time in a week. Andre Onana’s Internazionale went into their city derby with AC Milan already up two goals on aggregate. The ‘away’ side couldn’t overturn the deficit, and Inter made it through to their first Champions League final since 2010. 

Onana’s performance was, much like his outing in the first leg, relatively low key. The Cameroonian goalkeeper only had one save to make against an ExSave probability of 0.65. This left him with a neat +0.35 overall shot-stopping value. The save in question came early in the tie; he prevented Brahim Diaz from slotting a shot into the bottom left corner after the 23-year-old stabbed a shot towards goal level with the penalty spot. 

Onana’s movement across the goal was efficient and purposeful. He squared his chest to the cutback ball, before shuffling across the goal and making a tidy low diving save to his left. The save is made by a top flight goalkeeper around 65% of the time, meaning the ExSave probability on that shot comes in at 65%. 

 

Mike Maignan and the red side of Milan put up little of a fight, despite controlling 57% of possession, and the only shot they had on target was Diaz’s saved effort in the 11th minute. Maignan, meanwhile, faced 15 shots, but only four were on target; three were saves he had to make. 

He was the only goalkeeper who finished their Semi-Final match with a negative shot-stopping value (-0.11), with three saves made against an ExSave value of 3.11. The best save he pulled off was from a 39th minute Edin Dzeko effort. To Maignan’s credit, it was impressive. 

 

A free kick from wide and deep on the left flank was fired into the box, with the ball grazing Dzeko’s head, allowing him to glance an effort on target. Maignan retreated to his line and made a fantastic reaction save, half with his neck/head and half with his chest/right arm. What proved to be a disappointing evening for the Frenchman did, at least, have a moment of brilliance.

The Goalkeeper xG model recorded a 79% ExSave Probability from the header; this doesn't detract from the save itself, but based on the type of shot Maignan faced, the data suggests that many top flight goalkeepers should make a save of this nature. 

It was a night of goalkeeping solidity, on the whole, with flashes of brilliance - or more like floods of light in Courtois' case. Ederson and Onana will hope that such assurance between the sticks will come round again in Istanbul, though undoubtedly for themselves, and not each other. 


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