The next time manager Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid send keeper Keylor Navas onto the field, they should give him a cape. It felt like it was the only thing missing after another Superman-performance from the Costa Rican star on Saturday against Atlético Madrid.
It’s no secret that Real Madrid’s backline has been the weak link for Los Merengues all season, and that Navas has been asked repeatedly to bail out the defense with incredible saves. Despite a 1-0 loss to the intra-city rival, Navas did all he could to keep a blank slate in Saturday’s crucial battle for second place in La Liga.
In the 40th minute of the Madrid Derby, star Atlético forward Antoine Griezmann broke through Madrid’s porous backfield and made an admirable strike on goal. But Griezmann’s attempt, like so many would-be goals from Real Madrid opponents all season, was denied when Navas soared through the air to make a spectacular stop.
A minute later, Atlético broke through Madrid’s defense again as striker Koké gained the corner on midfielder Luka Modric and sent a shot with a clear path towards the net. Again, Navas was there just in time to swallow up the ball and deny the cross-town rivals of a goal.
Atlético was finally able to get past Navas in the 53rd minute when Brazilian Filipe Luís penetrated Real’s disjointed defense and set up a beautiful assist for Griezmann, who rocketed in the game’s only goal.
Madrid was threatened again in the 66th minute when Juanfran spun his way into the box and left a golden opportunity for Atlético to score. Again, Navas had to come out to take away the ball from Saúl Ñiguez as Real’s defense looked lost and confused.
With the loss, Madrid remains farther away from the top spot in La Liga, where rival Barcelona has a controlling, nine-point lead. On the other side, Atlético Madrid’s win has increased its hold on second place with a four-point cushion over Real.
Even with Navas’ absurd play, constant rumors continue to pour out of Spain that eccentric owner Florentino Pérez still intends to trade Navas for Manchester United keeper and Spain-native David De Gea. The club tried to make the trade in August during the last transfer window, but came minutes short of faxing in the paperwork.
The 29-year-old Navas has responded by turning in one of the best campaigns of any goalkeeper on the planet this season, breaking multiple club and world records in the process. He was named as one of the top five goalkeepers in the world by a players-only poll taken by FIFA and named as the 67th best football player by The Guardian.