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Courtois on Chelsea's new system, title chances, and the difference between his former head coaches

Julian Finney/Getty Images

The 2016-17 season marks the third year of 24-year-old goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois's reign between Chelsea's goalposts following the decade-long steady rule of club legend Petr Čech.

Thibaut's first year was an instant success, with a Premier League title delivered, but last season was disastrous and filled with injury and poor(er), less confident play from the young goalkeeper.  Exit rumors gathered, public opinion turned, but like many in the team, Courtois has bounced back stronger than ever this season.

Courtois might not have the flash of Manchester United's David De Gea, or the on-the-ball skills of Manchester City's Claudio Bravo, but few in the game can dominate his area as well as he can, especially in the air.  As he tells it, this skill was honed during his time playing in his home country, dealing with the physical play of Belgium's Jupiler Pro League.

"When I came to England everyone told me that I'd get the hits so I was prepared for that. It's one of my stronger points claiming high balls. I'm tall so that helps me. If you're a smaller goalkeeper, crosses in England are even harder."

"I decided to come out for the ball immediately. I think that was because of my time in Belgium. It's not the same level there as the Premier League but they play really physical as well. So when I was there I was used to getting the knocks. It helped me adapt."

Much of Chelsea's success this season in the Premier League has come since head coach Antonio Conte changed systems, from his initial 4-2-4/4-4-2 to a 3-4-3 that has helped the Blues to seven wins in seven league matches, including six clean sheets for Courtois. Courtois, at times a vocal critic of the defenses in front of him (whether for club and country) appreciates how the new system helps bring the best out in all the players.

"I think it's the system [that put Chelsea on their current form]. It not only gives cover for the goalkeeper, in general it's a good system. When one guy can drop down and you can still have four at the back, when one guy can put pressure high up and you still have a solid shape that's quite good."

"With a three [in the back] you can put two in the middle, two wide and have your wing-backs open. If the opposition full-backs close them they risk leaving the winger alone. Then I can maybe go to the winger. So it's hard for a team to really put you under pressure high."

"We've played it a few times with Belgium now too and it's a system that's very hard to play against. In the summer we were working on another system. It was after the Arsenal game that we decided to go to three at the back. Since then we have trained it constantly."

In his relatively brief professional career, Courtois has already had the opportunity to work with great coaches in Diego Simeone, José Mourinho and, now, Antonio Conte. He's talked about the similarities and differences between them before, and he's hoping that the extra tactical nous that's being taught by Conte will help to eventual glories in Europe.

"It's a bit similar [in intensity, but] Conte does more tactics and videos [than Diego Simeone and José Mourinho]. But you can see in the games that it's really useful for us. OK, it's not always what the player wants to do in training - a lot of players want to shoot, play little games and have fun - but you have to do what's necessary too."

"You have to do the tactics to win games because if you have good organisation and know what to do, you'll know where the weaknesses are in the opponent. We've been doing tactics since the summer. Players need time to get used to a whole new way of working."

"We want to play in Europe. Everyone does. But maybe with the new system and the need to get used to a new way of working, the extra time helps as well. If you have a game at the weekend you can work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to do everything more."

Chelsea are looking on course to qualify for Europe next season, but should the current form continue a title challenge would become a real possibility.  For Courtois, as for the rest of the squad, it's still obviously far too early to talk about such things, especially in a league where at least a handful, if not more teams can claim to have a realistic shot.

"It's hard to say yet. When I started with Genk we had a team of quality and we knew we could be champions. It was the same at Atlético [Madrid], we knew we could win trophies. It's the same with Chelsea now but there are a lot of teams who can say that."

"Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool - a lot of teams have quality. Yes, we have a team that should be able to play for a trophy but it's a long season. Maybe in March we can say we are contenders."

"I think the win at Southampton was a big one though. They are the sort of games you have to win if you want to be at the top and be important. They are a strong team and not a lot of teams will go there and win. They even drew at City and Arsenal. That was a good victory."

"But we will see. It's hard to say where we will finish because we have to do it every game. Liverpool and Arsenal would probably say Chelsea aren't there after they beat us. Now people are saying Chelsea are there. It's about proving it every week."

For such a young player, especially as far as goalkeepers are concerned, Courtois has already won more than his fair share of trophies while being regularly tested at the highest levels of the game.   And yet, there's probably plenty more to come and even plenty of room for improvement left.  The general rule of thumb in football claims that Courtois is still three or four years away from his very peak as a goalkeeper; he himself looks at legendary Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon as the example to follow.

"For goalkeepers, the better years they say come from the age of 27 or 28. If you look at [Gianluigi] Buffon, he is 38 and he's still playing great. It gives you the dream that you can reach that age and play the amazing games that he plays. I just hope I can keep on improving."

"There are still things I can work on. My footwork was something I had to improve and I've focused on that. In every aspect you have to look for perfection."

-Thibaut Courtois; Source: Sky Sports

Courtois remains a fairly interesting, perhaps even enigmatic character and one who, despite all his success, has had yet to unilaterally convince everyone that he's a worthy successor to Petr Čech.  But he, just like the rest of the team, are winning the hearts and minds of all observers.  Beautiful thing, a winning streak.  May it long continue, just like Courtois's reign as Chelsea's first-choice goalkeeper.

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