Real Madrid: Keylor Navas Could Be Decisive In El Classico

For all of the attention that has been centered on the fitness of Barcelona forward Lionel Messi ahead of Saturday evening’s Classico, Real Madrid fans should perhaps be more concerned with reports that goalkeeper Keylor Navas may not be fit to play.

A statement issued on the Real Madrid website revealed that the Costa Rican has yet to train with his teammates ahead of the Classico, owing to an ongoing muscle injury, and could be replaced in the starting side by Kiko Casilla, as has been the case in each of Real’s last two La Liga fixtures.

Navas has arguably been Madrid’s outstanding performer this term.

In 13 appearances for Real, the 28-year-old has conceded only three goals. This is the case despite the fact that Navas has faced 113 shots on target, more, as the Spanish sports daily AS pointed out, than any other keeper at any team at the top of one of Europe’s big five leagues (England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain).

Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer, for instance, conceded four goals from 66 shots in his first 12 appearances of the 2015/16 season, Manchester City’s Joe Hart ceded four from 69, Roma’s Wojciech Szczesny shipped six in 88 and Paris Saint Germain’s Kevin Trapp was beaten six times in 80 shots during in that period.

It is also notable that it was just at the start of this month that Navas set a new UEFA Champions League record for having started in the most consecutive matches without conceding a goal (six), and Navas’ 92 percent save completion record ranks as the highest in Europe this season.

But as striking as these figures are, the nature of Navas’ saves has perhaps been more impressive. As Guardian’s Sid Lowe pointed out in the aftermath of Real Madrid’s 1-3 defeat of Celta Vigo on October 24, the Costa Rican is actively deciding matches.

“He has saved two penalties and gave Madrid points against Granada, Málaga and Athletic. A superb stop in the last minute prevented Atlético winning the Madrid derby. This weekend he did it again when the only two unbeaten teams in Spain met at Balaídos: Real Madrid and Celta Vigo.”

With Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and James Rodriguez struggling for consistency in attack, ASseem entirely justified in referring to Navas as having been Real Madrid’s “best player in the first leg of the season,” and his absence stands to be a considerable loss for Rafael Benitez’s side ahead of the visit of Barcelona for El Classico this weekend.

This circumstance is remarkable when one reflects on how close Navas came to leaving Real during the summer transfer window.

The Madrid club’s relentless pursuit of Manchester United and Spain stopper David de Gea – a player long regarded as the heir apparent to the recently departed captain Iker Casillas – meant that Navas’ outstanding talents were almost entirely overlooked. The Costa Rican, who only joined Real after starring on national duty at the 2014 World Cup, was set to be used as a reluctant makeweight in the deal apparently agreed to sign de Gea on transfer deadline day.

Indeed, Daily Mail’sPete Jensen reports the transfer was so far advanced on August 31 that Navas had undergone a medical with Manchester United doctors at Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground and was awaiting a charter flight to take him to England once the deal had been finalized on the other side.

But for reasons that remain unclear, the transfer deadline expired without the move being completed.

“He [Navas] went home and cried after transfer deadline day,” Jensen says. “It was not so much that he did not want to join Manchester United, but he did not want his dream move to Real Madrid to have passed without him ever really being given an opportunity to be the club’s No 1.”

Three months on, Navas has made the No.1 shirt his own at the Bernabeu, and all Real Madrid fans will have fingers crossed that the player nicknamed “Keylor Paras” (“Keylor stops”) is fit to thwart Messi and company when Barca visit for El Classico on Saturday.

[Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images]