A few months ago, I surmised that, despite the enduring drama of deadline day, Keylor Navas’ demeanor would allow him to thrive. Admittedly I felt quite proud of myself during the first weeks of the season as he proved me right, but even I didn’t expect Navas to reach his current heights.
At the current rate, the Costa Rican’s end of season “best saves” compilation may win the director an Oscar.
In just two short months, Navas has emerged from a relative afterthought in what seemed to be an inevitable De Gea deal to the talk of the footballing world for his seemingly miraculous ability to keep the ball out of the net. A friend of mine has resorted to calling him “Lord and Saver,” a moniker befitting of the very religious goalkeeper, but what he’s become more than anything is the hero of the Bernabeu. From makeweight on Aug. 31st to “Mr. Save” less than two months later, calling it a fairytale story would be doing Navas a disservice. His performances have been very real, and he’s earned every ounce of praise he’s gotten this season.
There’s been this false narrative being bandied about regarding Madrid’s improved defense under Rafa Benitez. Yes, Casemiro’s introduction into the center of the park has given Madrid a true ball winner, and Raphael Varane’s full-time insertion into the starting lineup is paying dividends, but it wouldn’t be amiss to say that Madrid’s defensive record this season could almost wholly be attributed to Navas’ performance in goal. And it’s backed up by the statistics as well.
On current form, Navas is a prime example of how much confidence can affect a player on the pitch. Like most keepers, Navas possesses a sort of mean streak when he plays. He tends to be overly aggressive at times, but he’s somehow able to temper this with pragmatism as well.
Above all he’s decisive, Navas’ decision-making is so swift that he’s often a step ahead of his defenders at times. Dashing off his line like a one man wrecking crew, he often appears at the doorstep of forwards before they can even look up at the goal, as he did below to thwart Granada forward Youseff El-Arabi:
It’s taken a lot to beat Navas this season, something that’s only happened three times in nine games. Sabin Merino’s well-executed header was caused by a quick break and a defense error from Pepe. Against Atletico, a mix up in defense lead to a late Luciano Vietto goal after right back Alvaro Arbeloa lost his man on the wing. And this past weekend, it took a wonder strike from La Liga’s player of the season so far, Nolito, to beat the Costa Rican.