As Casillas warms the bench for Real Madrid, we look at the possibility of Valdes or other goalkeepers replacing him at the World Cup.

‘San Iker’ or Saint Iker has been brought back to earth the last two seasons at Real Madrid. Preferred by Jose Mourinho in the 2012-13 season, following a rift between player and manager, Casillas was axed from the first team following his open remarks about not seeing eye to eye with the Portuguese manager. It was common knowledge that Mourinho wasn’t well liked at Madrid due to his confrontational and combative approach, whether it be in press conferences, in the club hierarchy or on the touchline. However, Casillas’s stance against his manager was enough for Mourinho to relegate him to the bench.

Casillas’s fellow country man and second choice ‘keeper, Diego Lopez was given a run in during the festive period of 2013, which Mourinho labeled as rotation. Then, in January at the Mestalla, Casillas injured his hand when right back Alvaro Arbeloa kicked at the keeper’s hand in the King’s Cup quarterfinal against Valencia. Diego Lopez got another streak of games and although it wasn’t known then, this firmly shut the door on Casillas’s primary role at the club. Mourinho persisted with Lopez, commenting that he was at that moment a better ‘keeper than even a fully fit Casillas and was going to be the number one ‘keeper for the rest of the season.

Real Madrid

Casillas: Benchwarmer at Madrid

Mourinho departed soon after in what followed a wresting back of power by the Madrid top hierarchy from the Portuguese’s rebellious ways and installed the more composed, calm and collected Carlo Ancelotti at the manager’s position at the Bernabeu. Fans of Casillas, who is worshipped and looked up to among the Madridistas, would’ve heaved a sigh of relief. But alas, the White Knight of Madrid was overlooked even by the new Italian manager, who stuck with Diego Lopez in goal. Ancelotti did not want a break in continuity and Lopez has rewarded him with fine form.

This leaves the Spanish team in a precarious position ahead of the World Cup in Brazil. National manager Vicente del Bosque must decide whether to stick with Casillas as his number choice, even though the talismanic captain has not played a single La Liga game this season, only featuring in the Champions’ League. The Spain national team has had many talented players in the past decade and goalkeeping isn’t an exception. Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes, Pepe Reina, David De Gea and now Diego Lopez have all shown ability and class most national teams find non-existent. These are first team goalkeepers who have played against the best of teams in Europe, but only one of these has been first choice for Spain. That is Casillas.

Now that the tide seems to have shifted in Madrid, perhaps players like Valdes and Reina, whose would ordinarily have walked into most national teams as the first choice, have a chance to win the number one spot in Vicente del Bosque’s side at the World Cup. De Gea and Diego Lopez may yet be outside chances given their relative inexperience in the national set up. We looked at the stats for these goalkeepers this season to shed some light on Del Bosque’s dilemma.

 Iker Casillas – Real Madrid (Champions League):

  • Played – 6
  • Shots on Target Faced – 53
  • Saves – 21
  • Clean Sheets – 2
  • Saves/Shots Faced – 39.6%
  • Clean Sheets/Game – 33.33%

Victor Valdes – FC Barcelona (La Liga and Champions League):

  • Games – 27
  • Shots On Target Faced – 206
  • Saves – 70
  • Clean Sheets – 14
  • Saves/Shots Faced – 33.9%
  • Clean Sheets/Game – 51.85%

Pepe Reina – Napoli (Serie A and Champions League):

  • Games Played – 23
  • Shots on Target Faced – 237
  • Saves – 76
  • Clean Sheets – 5
  • Saves/Shots Faced – 32.06%
  • Clean Sheets/Game – 21.7%

David De Gea – Manchester United (Premier League and Champions League):

  •  Games Played – 33
  • Shots on Target Faced – 369
  • Saves – 89
  • Clean Sheets – 13
  • Saves/Shots Faced – 24.11%
  • Clean Sheets/Game – 39.39%

Diego Lopez – Real Madrid (La Liga):

  • Games Played- 25
  • Shots on Target Faced – 256
  • Saves – 62
  • Clean Sheets – 10
  • Saves/Shots Faced – 24.21%
  • Clean Sheets/Game – 40%

The two key indicators in the stats, the saves made per shots faced and the clean sheets per game reflect the following:

  • Casillas is still the best shot stopper in the Spanish national side
  • Valdes and Diego Lopez have the best clean sheets per game record this season.

These two points help us eliminate De Gea and Reina from the running. Del Bosque should choose his number one from among Casillas, Valdes and Diego Lopez. Valdes has a staggering 51.85% clean sheets this season. However, when Valdes was in fact tested, his saves made stats drop to 33.9%, which means that there is more to the 51.85% clean sheets stat than Valdes alone. Sitting in front of Valdes is a well drilled Barcelona side, who are the best in the world at possession play and give little away to the opposition. When they lose the ball, Barcelona hound out the opposition with their high intensity pressing game, which means opposition teams are unable to test the goalkeeper for large parts of the match.

Diego Lopez too has a respectable 40% clean sheet record this season. However, it has come in a league where the divide between the quality of players at the top and the bottom is immense. Casillas on the other hand, has played six matches in the Champions’ League, the most prestigious club tournament in the world and has registered a saves per shots ratio of nearly 40% – this against opposition like Serie A giants Juventus and Turkish superpower Galatasaray.

Diego Lopez may have replaced Casillas in the Real Madrid goal, but that in no way means San Iker’s qualities have diminished. He is still the calm, assured and trustworthy figure between the posts and is head and shoulders above Lopez when it comes to experience on the international stage. Valdes may have the stats to back his case, but the Barcelona ‘keeper is known to be injury prone and is not the leader on the pitch that Casillas is. Adding to this, Casillas’s bench role means that he will be fresher and sharper at the World Cup and would be able to concentrate a lot better than any of his compatriots who will be mentally fatigued at the end of their league seasons. The only thing Del Bosque should work on is not to let Casillas’s confidence drop and the Spanish manager has done a bit in this direction by declaring that Casillas is still at the top in his mind, despite his lack of games this season. If only Del Bosque’s chain of thoughts remains the same even as Casillas’s participation in Real Madrid’s first team dwindles.

stats courtesy: thescore.com

Our Choice: Iker Casillas

We leave you with a glimpse of San Iker’s qualities from this season that show he still has what it takes to reign at the top: