Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Aston Villa

Aston Villa

Shay Given

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Shay Given, Brad Guzan, Andy Marshall, Elliot Parish

Overview: Replacing Brad Friedel is no easy task, but Villa have traded upwards with the acquisition of Shay Given. When he first lost his place to Joe Hart, I would have considered him one of the finest goalkeepers in the world, but for whatever reason – politics I suspect – Roberto Mancini opted for the young English man over the considerable experience of Given. It’s a decision that has worked out well, but a couple of times during the last season the Irish goalie deserved to be reinstated and was left sitting on the bench. From his outings in cup competitions and for Ireland, Given doesn’t look to have suddenly lost his ability. He has on occasion looked rusty, but the fundamentals – the reactions, the agility, the handling – remain solid and it’s only a matter of time before he regains his match sharpness. The main concern is hit recent record with injuries. By and large, Given has been relatively lucky with injuries throughout his career, but in the last couple of years, he’s picked up a couple of serious ones. Once the injuries start to creep in, it’s hard to shake them off. We’re not even talking recurrences of previous problems. It’s a bizarre phenomenon in elite sport by which once someone suffers a major injury to one part of the body, the frequency of other non-related injuries seems to increase. Hopefully Given can finish out the last few years of his career avoiding lengthy spells on the sidelines, but sadly it’s a concern. In reserve, Alex McLeish can call upon the services of Brad Guzan. I must admit, I assumed the American would be given his chance to replace his compatriot when Friedel moved to White Hart Lane, but he doesn’t seem to be considered a viable long-term option. Martin O’Neill didn’t seem to rate him and he spent some of last season on loan at Hull. He’s young enough to make it in the Premier League, but he needs to see more first team action and soon. Beyond the first two, the experienced Andy Marshall can do a job in an emergency, but hopefully won’t be required for too many games and Elliot Parish is likely to spend the season on loan somewhere.

Worst case scenario: With age catching up on him, Given’s injury woes won’t go away and he misses large parts of the season. Guzan steps in, but makes a couple of errors. With no real alternatives, Villa concede a few costly goals that their revamped attack struggles to compensate for and the relegation fears of last season resurface under the leadership of Alex McLeish.

Most likely outcome: Given may initially look rusty on his return to regular Premier League, but I fully expect him to return to something approaching his best. Even at his best, he was capable of making the odd mistake, but overall he’s a major positive for the team.

Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Newcastle United


Fraser Forster

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Tim Krul, Fraser Forster, Steve Harper, Ole Soderberg

Overview: The goalkeeping division of the Newcastle squad is one of the most competitive and interesting in the Premier League. Three goalkeepers with different strengths and weaknesses all of whom will think the starting position is theirs for the taking. Steve Harper represents the experience; the old hand who uses his nous to accentuate his natural ability. Tim Krul is a more energetic – sometimes even frenetic – young goalkeeper who thinks he can deal with everything that gets thrown at him. In terms of physique, Fraser Forster is the more traditional option, but height is far from being his only strength. He’s highly agile and blessed with excellent reflexes. He possibly doesn’t command his penalty area with the authority befitting of a man of his stature and his handling could do with improvement but his season at Celtic has greatly aided his development to the point where you would have little concern about him being a Premier League starter and he can’t be too far from Fabio Capello’s thoughts for the England squad. Second guessing what’s going to happen at St. James Park is a hazardous occupation, but of the trio, my gut instinct is Forster is the best option – however Alan Pardew seems to disagree. The speculation is he can return to Glasgow on a permanent basis for the right fee. The magic number to keep both sides happy is thought to be around £3.5 million but with money tight in the SPL, Celtic may struggle to meet that valuation. Forster has featured in much of the Magpies’ pre-season programme, but it’s difficult to draw any firm conclusions from that. The chances are Tim Krul will start the season as first choice, but as Pardew has two more than capable options ready to step-in, don’t be surprised to see changes throughout the season to account for fluctuations in form.

Worst Case Scenario: Even if Krul and Harper have poor seasons, you would imagine Newcastle should be safe. Their worst case scenario is a longer term nightmare. If they let Forster go too cheap and he continues to improve like I think he might – with Krul and Harper struggling all the while – they’ll end up looking foolish and with an expensive bill to find a suitable replacement.

What will probably happen: Krul will continue to perform well, but still have those rushes of blood to the head. If he’s not sold by the end of August, Forster will step in. He’s not the finished article yet, so may also make errors, in which case Steve Harper will get the job until his performance dips or injuries catch up with him – whichever happens first. I’ve heard good reports of Soderberg. If Forster stays, he’s likely to go out on loan, but if the move to Celtic happens, he’ll probably kept around as cover for Krul and Harper.

Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Manchester United

Manchester United

David de Gea

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: David de Gea, Anders Lindegaard, Ben Amos, Tomasz Kuszczak, Sam Johnstone

Overview: Sir Alex Ferguson has had something of a mixed bag when it comes to picking his goalkeepers. Spotting Schmeichel and van der Sar were two moments of inspiration, but sadly the list of custodians who failed to meet the standards required at Manchester United is far longer. Fergie has taken a risk in signing the 20 year old Spaniard for a rather colossal fee, but clearly the Scotsman and his goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele have concluded the rewards could potentially far exceed the outlay. As I’ve said several times before, I think de Gea has the talent to handle the Premier League and go on to be the United keeper for many years to come and it’s that possible longevity that will ha. The only question comes in the form of his ability to cope with the immense pressure he’ll feel at Old Trafford. It will be far more intense and unforgiving than anything he experienced at Atletico Madrid and – most worryingly – has the capacity to be downright savage and dent the confidence of even the most grounded and self-confident of players. De Gea seems to have an excellent attitude, but if the press and in turn the fans start to get on his back, it will take real mental strength to pull through. What’s worrying is that there will be a few mistakes along the way. That’s a guarantee with every single goalkeeper in the world as opposed to a criticism of de Gea. The Community Shield was a rude awakening for him. Criticism for the second goal was somewhat understandable, but the fact plenty of people were also blaming him for the first tells you all you need to know about the hypercritical environment he now finds himself. He’s still learning his trade and for all his agility, handling skills and technical ability, there will be times when he makes the wrong call and may hand the opposition a goal or at least a gilt-edged chance. If it happens with too much frequency towards the start of his Old Trafford career, I fear it will be the start of a losing battle that he may never win.

In reserve, United have some strength. Anders Lindegaard arrived last season to throw the cat amongst the van der Sar replacement pigeons and he’ll have ambitions of being the surprise successor in his own right. He’s mainly been limited to reserve team appearances since arriving, but the reports coming from the games were largely positive. Tomasz Kuszczak remains at the club, but it looks to be only a matter of time before he leaves. His hopes of being the dark horse of the race to replace the Dutchman took a major knock thanks to a shaky display at Ewood Park towards the end of the season. He can still do a job for a Premier League team, but Man Utd expect higher standards than he seems to be able to provide. Ben Amos had been the big young hope at the club prior to the arrival of de Gea, but he’s been bumped down the pecking order and the chances are he’ll go out on loan for at least a part of the season. He’s one of very few England-qualified goalkeepers to have tasted Champions League football in recent years, but the suspicion remains that he’ll need to progress before seriously challenging for the United starting berth.

Worst case scenario: The major worry would be that de Gea doesn’t handle the pressure at Old Trafford and turns into the latest expensive flop. Already,events at Wembley will have given him an idea of what to expect. If Fergie loses faith, he may decide to turn to Lindegaard, but in that case the fear is Peter Schmeichel’s assertion that he’s not good enough to Man Utd number 1 comes to pass and United are left with a couple of under-performing goalkeepers who are low on confidence.

Most likely outcome: De Gea will prove to be the rational and levelheaded youngster he’s always come across as and settle perfectly well into the team. There will be the odd error to begin with, but with Lindegaard putting pressure on him for the position, he ups his game and gets over it.

Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Swansea City


Jose Moreira

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Michel Vorm, Jose Moreira, David Cornell, Yves Makabu-Makalambay

Overview: The summer transfer window has seen a complete U-turn in fortunes for Swansea’s goalkeeping ranks. It started with the disappointment of the departure of the goalkeeper who was instrumental in getting them to the promised land of the Premier League, Dorus De Vries, but they’ve done some impressive wheeling and dealing to more than compensate for his loss. I’ve said all along that as much as he was a great servant to the club, losing De Vries isn’t the a huge loss. It would have been had the Swans not strengthened their goalkeeping ranks to such an extent. He’s a good goalkeeper, but I feel his weaknesses would have been really exposed in the Premier League. He’s a good all-rounder with good natural reflexes, is very strong in one on one situations and is always brave and committed, but also found there to be a certain lack of agility to him and he was often rather untidy with his handling.

The signing of Jose Moreira was a decent signing, but not one that totally convinced. He comes with credentials. Although there’s a lack of strength in-depth in the Portuguese league, he has managed ten years at the pressure cauldron that is Benfica and that’s not something you do without a certain amount of ability. He’s also got an international cap to his name which again doesn’t necessarily translate and guaranteed quality, but does hint at something above the ordinary. Scratch the surface however and its a little more questionable. Moreira did spend a decade in Lisbon, but for much of it was only a back-up. He averaged 11 games a season and although some of that was down to injury, he hasn’t been first choice for an extended period of time.

It’s not all bad however, He’s an athletic, robust sort of keeper who shouldn’t have too many problems adapting to the English game. I’m reluctant to use the phrase ‘good shot-stopper’, but there’s little doubt that his main skill is the ability to cover his goal. After that, the question marks start to appear. He’s not the most convincing under crosses, favouring the punch rather than the catch in the majority of cases and in general he prefers to parry away shots rather than attempting the clean sheet. The commentators and pundits can get caught up in lambasting goalkeepers for punching and parrying rather than catching, but it certainly has it’s merits and there are plenty of situations in which it’s the right decision for a goalkeeper to make. With Moreira, his utter reluctance to catch the ball crosses over the line from being a sensible call by the goalkeeper to being a bit of an issue.

The signing of Michel Vorm changes everything however and when the season comes to an end £1.5 million fee could have him mentioned as the bargain of the season. Vorm is a an excellent goalkeeper. Although comparing him with a hypothetical hybrid does a disservice to all involved, for illustrative purposes I would see him as being something of a mix between Jorge Campos and Shay Given and here’s why. He’s got the spring-heeled agility of the Mexican goalkeeping legend. He absolutely launches himself at shots and combined with his superb reflexes, he is capable of pulling off virtually miraculous saves.He’s quick off his line, incredibly brave and he has got really good hands, not dissimilar to the Irish international. It’s no surprise to see him gain international recognition and he’ll surely go on to amass more than his five caps over the next few years.

The mentioning of Campos and Given does also have some negative connotations however. Vorm is on the shorter end of the spectrum when it comes to goalkeepers. His height is given as being 6ft on the nose, but as with most profiles, I think that may be a case of rounding up. As such he doesn’t have a great command of aerial situations. I’ve argued that this isn’t necessarily a terrible trait. As long as defenders know that their goalkeeper won’t be coming for a cross and it’s up to them to deal with it, confusion should be avoided. It’s something the players in front of Shay Given have had to deal with throughout his career and he has been involved in remarkably few calamities on crosses. Bigger problems arise with goalkeepers who make bad judgements of when to come for crosses and the sense of uncertainty creeps into the penalty area.

The two acquisitions mean David Cornell can go out on loan and get some much-needed first team experience. He’s a young player of immense potential, but he has long way to go and possibly a couple of loan spells away from the club before being a Premier League keeper. It also means Yves Makabu-Makalambay should see a mercifully minimal amount of playing time. At his best, the Belgian is an agile and effective keeper, but too often a howler isn’t too far around the corner.

Worst case scenario: In my opinion, the Swans have gone from a dire goalkeeping situation to one of real strength. The real concern would be that neither Moreira or Vorm settle in the English game, but even so, Brendan Rogers should be able to rotate them in such a way that he always has one who is in some kind of form.

What will probably happen: Vorm will perform well and make the difference between Swansea earning three points rather than one or one point rather than none. If there is a dip in form, Moreira can step in and more than likely do a decent job for a few games without having his weaknesses exposed to any great effect.

Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: QPR


Paddy Kenny

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Paddy Kenny, Radek Cerny, Brian Murphy

Overview: In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess a huge liking for Paddy Kenny that goes back several years. I’ve been a huge fan of his since seeing him in his early days at Sheffield United and little has happened in the intervening period – on the playing field at least – to dim my opinion of him as a top class keeper. He did very little wrong during the Blades’ previous stint in the top flight and any time I’ve seen him since, I’ve been impressed by his natural ability. I’m delighted he’s getting another chance in the top flight because I’ve always seen him as a Premier League-standard keeper and was genuinely perplexed by the reluctance of several clubs to take a chance on him. With Sheffield United having several near-misses when it comes to promotion, perhaps he felt a loyalty to stay with them over the years or maybe clubs thought his rather complicated personal life was too much of a risk to justify his purchase, but I think he is perfectly capable of performing well in the top flight. His reactions and surprising agility were good enough when he was a more rotund figure a few years ago and now that he’s more svelte, I think that regardless of the fate that befalls football’s soap opera club, he will remain a Premier League goalkeeper for the rest of playing career.

In reserve, the Rs have the service of Radek Cerny. Kenny’s arrival at Loftus Road ended the Czech’s reign as first choice, but provided he’s not too unhappy with spending so much time on the bench towards the end of his career, he’s decent option to have from the bench. In one sense he’s an experienced Premier League keeper having spent a few seasons at Tottenham, but in reality, he was largely confined to the subs’ bench and didn’t see a lot of playing time during his stint there. That said, he went on to play regularly for QPR afterwards and although you wouldn’t want to rely on him for large parts of the season, he’s more than capable of filling in for a few games if required.

The signing of Brian Murphy adds some depth to the goalkeeping ranks. For many years, Murphy has been one of the most consistent performers in the League of Ireland and has been recognised as such with a series of awards. He’s got excellent reflexes and agility and his ability has brought him to the fringes of the Ireland team. He has already had stints in English football, so adaptation won’t be a problem. He’s unlikely to get much in the way of first team action, but his performances at Ipswich last season suggested if given the chance he should be more than capable of stepping in and possibly leapfrogging Cerny in the pecking order. In the short term at least, it’s not likely to change to much at the Rs, but he’s a useful signing – especially for free.

Worst case scenario: Problems may arise is for whatever reason Kenny isn’t fully focused on his football. He has immense natural talent, but if there are things going on int he background, he’s as likely as anyone to see a dip in performances. If he were to have a bad spell, it could be enough to cost QPR their expensively acquired Premier League status.

What will probably happen: Kenny will perform well and if QPR struggle, it will probably have more to do with their outfielder staff or – in the opinion of Neil Warnock – a conspiracy between the FA, the CIA and referees to keep Neil Warnock sides down.