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Real Madrid facing yet another goalkeeping crisis

MADRID (AP) — Thibaut Courtois was Real Madrid’s top signing after Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus last year. Real Madrid felt its only real need at the time was to improve the goalkeeping position, and it tried to do that by bringing in the man voted as the best at that position at the World Cup that year.

With Courtois in goal, the lingering doubts about Madrid’s goalkeeping position would finally be put to rest. A year later, though, Madrid is again facing a goalkeeping crisis. Courtois was booed by the Santiago Bernabéu crowd in the team’s 2-2 draw against Club Brugge in the Champions League on Tuesday, then was strangely replaced by coach Zinedine Zidane at halftime after conceding two goals from three shots against the Belgian club.

Zidane gave few hints after the game about what was wrong with Courtois, saying he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t continue. The club later said stomach problems kept the Belgium goalkeeper from returning to the game.

Courtois was substituted by recently signed French goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who has quickly become a fan favorite after some good performances in goal, including against Brugge, when he made a great save while facing a one-on-one situation in his first action of the game.

Courtois had failed to do the same in a similar play in the first half, leading to Brugge’s second goal. He also could have done better in the first, when he was caught out of position following a counterattack.

“Courtois and Areola are Real Madrid goalkeepers,” Zidane said. “Everyone has their own opinion, I’m not going to get into that. I’m not worried. Courtois is trying to do his best and that’s what matters.”

Zidane recognized things improved after the change in goal but went out of his way not to single out Courtois. “The second half was better and that’s what I take away with me,” Zidane said. “In the first half, we could point the finger at Courtois, but we are all in it together, and I am the first who has to take criticism. That’s how it is. I am the one responsible.”

Keylor Navas used to be Madrid’s starter before Courtois arrived, helping the team win three straight Champions League titles. Still, he was among the first to be criticized at the first sign of trouble, considered the weak link in the team led by Ronaldo. The Costa Rica goalkeeper was transferred to Paris Saint-Germain this offseason in the deal that involved Areola joining Real Madrid on a loan.

Zidane has yet to announce whether it would be Areola or Courtois playing in goal on Saturday in the Spanish league match against Granada at the Bernabéu. MESSI’S APPEARANCE Lionel Messi made a rare appearance in front of the media after Barcelona’s 2-1 win over Inter Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday, blaming Barcelona’s poor start on the team’s busy preseason schedule.

“It’s not a criticism, but it’s a reality,” Messi said. “When you travel, you can’t practice well. You don’t get a sequence of practice sessions. But we will keep improving, we will be getting better. It’s understandable that the club plays these games, all of the big teams do, they are needed.”

Barcelona started the season with only two wins from its first six games in all competitions as Messi was sidelined with a calf injury. He later also hurt an abductor muscle, and the match against Inter at the Camp Nou was the first in which he played the full 90 minutes this season.

“I’m happy that it went well,” Messi said. “I lacked rhythm and I’m tired, but match after match I’ll keep improving. The more I play, the better I’ll feel.”

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