Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois sat down with CBS Sports exclusively on Paramount+ ahead of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg away at Chelsea and looked ahead to his Stamford Bridge return.
The Belgium international and compatriot Eden Hazard are returning to London after moves to the Spanish capital in recent years and are aiming to build on a 1-1 first leg result in Madrid thanks to Karim Benzema's strike.
"I saw some games under (Frank) Lampard, but not enough to go into detail," said Courtois in an exclusive chat with CBS. "They are really dynamic with an aggressive press. They play from the back and look to get in behind. They played really well. We suffered against them, particularly in the first half an hour. 1-1 was a good result for us, in the end. Maybe we will have to change things up for the second leg."
On the topic of Hazard, who managed 24 minutes last week, Courtois believes that the 30-year-old is in better shape than he has been at any other point since his move to Santiago Bernabeu in the summer of 2019.
"Very important," Courtois said. "I think you can see in the last two or three games that he has played that there is a sharpness and that he is more dynamic and feels good. You can see he is playing without pain and feeling good -- that is important. He took his time over the last month. We want him to play because he is important to us but first, he has to be healthy and feeling good. I think he does now, and I hope that he can play a big role and be important for us."
Courtois himself is now 28 and has been with Real since 2018 after a successful loan spell with bitter Madrid rivals Atletico between 2011-14 led him to establish himself as Chelsea's starter after Petr Cech's era but UCL success has eluded him so far.
"Obviously, to win would be a dream come true," the 2013-14 Champions League runner-up told CBS. "First, we have a difficult game against Chelsea. I think it is good to have so many players who have been there and won it before. Obviously, I have already played in a semifinal. It is good to have that experience and players around us who have also been there. Hopefully we can beat Chelsea and reach the final."
Courtois is satisfied with Real's situation at this point of the season as they still have a chance at La Liga success as they chase leaders Atleti and UCL glory remains possible despite a shock Copa del Rey exit earlier in the campaign.
"We are getting good results," said the man from Bree. "We are still fighting to win the league or to reach the final of the Champions League. We had a difficult season with COVID and many people in December thought that we would not make it out of our group or fight for the title. Here we are, in May, still fighting for both. I think that shows our quality as a team."
Courtois looked back at the likes of home and away defeats to Shakhtar Donetsk and a home win then away draw at Liverpool to reach the semi-finals as examples of the unpredictable nature of this COVID-19 term and the UCL itself.
"I think that it is different from when we played against Shakhtar, for example," he told CBS exclusively. "Many of us were coming from the national teams with some injuries and others did not have that much of a preseason because of the internationals in September as well. We just kind of rolled into games and were perhaps not at our best. Obviously, a team like Shakhtar can play well, but we were maybe not at our best. That is the Champions League -- the beauty of it.
"Everyone wants to play in the biggest games. You perhaps felt that we could not win against Liverpool, but we were also confident as I feel we can win against any demon with this team. That is how we feel about each other, the squad and the unity we share."
Courtois recognized coach Zinedine Zidane's role in Real's turnaround this season and praised the Frenchman for his closeness with his squad and approachable character despite the high standards that he expects from his group.
"He is someone who can really motivate the players," he said. "He is a big presence, and you can feel that when he comes into a room. I remember the first few weeks when he was here, for me, I did not know him from before like the others. He is very close to his players, but also very demanding. That is a good mix. It is a pleasure to work with him and to know him that well.
"As a coach, he is very present, and he puts pressure on the players. He is very active in training too and sometimes he joins in when we do a circle or something. He is still active.
"We have lots of quality in Madrid, but you can feel when he is in the circle that he has really good quality and he is rarely in the middle. I can only imagine how difficult it was to play against him when he was still active."
Finally, Courtois also lauded the returning Sergio Ramos and recognized that his were big boots to fill earlier in the season when he was absent against the likes of Atalanta BC.
"It is nice," said the Belgian. "I suffered when playing against him, but you also see the talent that he has. However, we have covered for him well, especially in the big games like Liverpool and Barcelona, which was really good for the team. Even against the likes of Atalanta when we had 12 players, we saw who could step in and do his job. That is the good thing about Real Madrid."
Real are chasing a 14th Champions League crown this season and Courtois will likely play a key role in any potential success this week and beyond that.