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Courtois isn’t able to read Conte’s mind regarding Hazard substitution

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Would’ve been big if true.

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Thibaut Courtois has an uncanny ability to push people’s buttons with his interviews. Whether it’s regarding his own future, the team’s performance, coaches, teammates, family, history, Spain, contracts, he will inevitably cause at least a little bit of consternation. I’d like to think he does this on purpose, and then has a quiet laugh about the absurdity of it all in private. But maybe he’s oblivious, or just simply doesn’t care and always tells it like it is, regardless of how people might interpret it.

As always, the truth is probably somewhere between the various sides in the grey area known as regular old boring real life.

For a change, Courtois’ latest comments aren’t about his contract or Real Madrid. Though to be more precise, we should be crediting the journalists for their questions in this case, since just about every comment Courtois or any other professional player makes is at the prompting of a question. Players don’t sit around at home calling up journalists to rant and rave and complain about whatever latest molehill they want to turn into a mountain.

The interview in this case was with Belgium’s Play Sports TV channel, who asked Thibaut at least three questions immediately following the match.

One of them was about the match result itself, and Courtois lamented the fact that Chelsea have conceded two silly goals in two silly games that cost us very serious points and a potentially advantageous position in the Champions League.

“After our goal, we conceded a counter-attacking goal just like last Tuesday but in the second half we had less of the ball, but even then we should never have lost this match,” he said.

”If you do not do the small things well in top matches, you lose, which is what happened today.”

Fair enough.

One of them was about Lukaku’s happiness, which ... well, that was a stupid question.

“No, [WHY THE [FUN] WOULD I BE HAPPY ABOUT IT]. It’s good for him personally and for the Belgian [national team], but today I would rather [he] hadn’t scored.”

And one of them was about the Hazard substitution. Now, do you think that most players would answer this question by

a) throwing the player under the bus
b) throwing the coach under the bus
c) saying something menial about Eden being a special player but that Conte makes the decisions (and thus takes the blame) so maybe all y’all should ask him

If you picked c), congratulations! This must not be your first go-around in football media.

“I also have no explanation for Hazard’s substitution. I did not expect it to be him either, but it’s the trainer’s choice, he has to explain that, I cannot look into his head.”

”Players like Eden should have 90 minutes on the field, he can always bring something extra offensive.”

-Thibaut Courtois; source: Play Sports via Sporza

And if you guessed correctly thus far, you will have undoubtedly expected the overreactions and the sensationalist headlines to follow. We don’t have to look too far; here’s the Star:

BRUTALLY TEARS INTO. Poor Antonio. There’s hardly any part of him left intact after Thibaut took the first rip and let the sharks have the rest. SHOCKING.

Here’s Football.London, upping their tabloid game

SLAMS. Football media sure love the words ‘slams’. Everybody’s slamming, from transfer windows to people, maybe even to salmon.

So there you have it. Courtois answers a question as innocuously as possible, rage incoming. Just another day at Shakespeare’s favorite team.

As far as the substitution itself, I can certainly see Conte’s reasoning for it. Would I have done the same? Probably not. Leaving Hazard on is the easy choice, and as Courtois says, he usually has the capacity for that moment of magic up, even if he is not quite Messi in that regard and had done nothing in the second-half and looked spent. So did the rest of the team in fairness, but I certainly would not have taken off Willian, who’s been our best player in the last couple weeks. But you and I both know that any decision that Conte could’ve made here would’ve been criticized if Chelsea had gone on to lose just the same.

It is rather unfortunate that Chelsea decided to have a defensive breakdown almost immediately after the substitution, instantly negating any benefit that Pedro might have provided in terms of balance and industrious effort (like against Barcelona and West Brom before that). Conte obviously did not plan to try to come back from a goal down without Hazard, but unfortunately that’s how things worked out. (And we almost even did it, were it not for the errant flag!)

So while Conte should take the blame and responsibility — that’s the job of manager, to make decisions and deal with their repercussions — suggesting, as the tabloids are doing, that this normal football issue will somehow drive Courtois away from the team (even if they did agree to delay the contract talks by a couple weeks in unrelated developments) is just sensationalist claptrap. Courtois seems just as committed to the cause as before ... but in the tiny chance that this somehow does play into his eventual departure, whenever that may be, then good riddance because that’s just ridiculous.