Al Habsi’s excellence remains key for Wigan



1st Team Goalkeepers: Ali Al Habsi (30), Mike Pollitt (40), Lee Nicholls (19) [on loan at Northampton]

It’s hard to know what to expect from Wigan this season. The finished the last campaign with the swagger of a team marching into the Champions League, but the evidence of the season up that point showed there were some serious issues with the team.

The uncertainty extends to Ali Al Habsi. He was simply brilliant last season. He was in fantastic form making a string of great saves and one incredible double save at Wolves. He has grown with each season and the shakiness which was in evidence early on in his Latics career has gradually disappeared from few. He’s now a far more convincing goalkeeper than he once was and combined with his reflexes and athleticism, that makes him a seriously good operator.

As good as his improvement has been, there are still some errors. In fairness to the Omani international, the frequency of those mistakes has reduced and he earns his team far more than he costs them. All goalkeepers make mistakes, but Al Habsi’s can be extra frustrating particularly in view of knowing how good he can be. If he starts the season well and continues to reduce the less than assured moments, his form will be massive in getting Roberto Martinez the good start to the season he wants. If he isn’t, it could be a struggle.

With a couple of weeks to go until the transfer window closes, the options on the bench are a touch worrying for Latics fans. The only other keeper registered in the senior squad is Mike Pollitt. He’s a hugely experienced keeper, but he has already considered retirement a couple of times and that’s not ideal. Previously Chris Kirkland was the second choice, but his history of injuries meant he was often unavailable too. The club released his when his contract expired over the summer and leaves Wigan’s goalkeeping ranks looking rather thin. Lee Nicholls is the club’s ‘one for the future’ and he will begin the season on loan at Northampton.

West Ham are 11/2 to finish in the Top 10 of the Premier League – BET NOW


Foster’s improved form a big positive for West Brom


West Brom

1st Team Goalkeepers: Ben Foster (29), Boaz Myhill (29), Luke Daniels (24)

Birmingham’s failure to climb the ladder back to the Premier League was greeted with glee at the Hawthorns and it was down to more than local rivalry. It meant they got to sign Ben Foster permanently and in a season of transition, having a tried and trusted goalkeeper is a good foundation as Steve Clarke steps into the considerable shoes of Roy Hodgson.

Foster has always had lightening reflexes. At times however, they’ve been undermined by a lack of agility and some clumsy handling. There are no doubts that these remain a concern, but in the closing months of last season, Foster performed in a way that suggested he’s getting on top of his issues. He kept ten clean sheets and was a huge part of the successful season West Brom enjoyed last term. If he maintains his progress, he could finally deliver upon the potential he promised prior to struggling under the pressure of a move to Manchester United.

Behind him, the Baggies aren’t doing too badly. Boaz Myhill is a solid back-up. He’s not always the most easy on the eye, but the talent is obvious and he gets the job done more often than not. He’s not the most athletic of goalkeepers, but he’s got plenty of experience and turning to him shouldn’t cause too many concerns.

Luke Daniels is the third string. He has been a Baggy since 2004, but hasn’t made an appearance for the club. He has relied on loan spells for his playing time and he’ll probably face more of the same in the next few months.

West Brom are 5/2 to finish in the Top 10 of the Premier League – BET NOW


Friedel can give Tottenham one more season of quality performances



1st Team Goalkeepers: Brad Friedel (41), Carlo Cudicini (38), Heurelho Gomes (31), David Button (23)

Tottenham’s pursuit of Hugo Lloris was about the only major goalkeeping transfer saga of the summer. In the end it came to nowt as Spurs found out Jean Michel Aulus is a stubborn negotiator and Andre Villas-Boas refused to budge on the transfer fee. The fee considered to be too rich for Villas-Boas’s tastes was €20 million. For some, it was spend the money now and you have a top quality goalkeeper sorted for the next 10 years. For others, little could be read into his Lyon form and there were lingering doubts about his ability to flourish in the Premier League. The truth was probably somewhere in the middle. There would have been a few blips as there always are, but the size of such a prize tag always makes them seem more calamitous than the really are.

Based on the evidence of last season, he’s not needed. For one more season at least. Brad Friedel’s performances last terms showed he was still a very capable top flight performer and barring a bizarrely sudden dip in form, he will be able to achieve similar standards this time around. Keeping the chequebook on ice until next summer may not be the worst of ideas. Lloris will no doubt be linked with a move again and his fee is unlikely to have increased too dramatically, regardless of the season he has.

With Friedel into his 40s, injury concerns always feature prominently. That’s not to paint a picture of the American being a frail old man, but naturally enough, time makes the knocks harder to shake off. It’s a concern, but the usually reliable supersub, Carlo Cudicini is also showing signs of wear and tear. He’s not the solid back up he once was.

That brings Heurehlo Gomes into the equation – a prospect that will probably terrify Spurs fans. In fairness to the Brazilian, his ability has been plain to see, but it’s constantly undermined by errors of concentration that lead to mistakes. Concentration is one of the hardest things to work, especially when you’re not getting regular football. If Cudicini or Gomes are needed for a few games, Spurs should be fine, but Friedel is the first choice and he’s badly needed.

David Button has been at the club since 2008, but hasn’t started a game. He’s had 13 loan spells in that period and he probably expect to add to that figure in the upcoming season as he builds up his experience.

Tottenham are 7/4 to finish in the Top 4 of the Premier League – BET NOW


Swansea need another great season from Michel Vorm



1st Team Goalkeepers: Michel Vorm (28), Gerhard Tremmel (33), David Cornell (21)

Brendan Rodgers has left the Liberty Stadium, but one of his great successes as manager was bringing Michel Vorm in from Utrecht. The Dutchman was quite simply immense in his debut Premier League season. It was all the more amazing because at £1.5 million, he cost about 1/33rd of a Fernando Torres. The saves he made and the points he helped earn his team were impressive, but his value was far greater than that. Such was his importance early on in the season, he helped the club believe they belonged in the top flight and that silky football was compatible with avoiding immediate relegation.

It’s not merely glove-tinted glasses. Plenty of teams have arrived in the Premier League intending to play nice football, but few managers have withstood the pressure if it doesn’t pay dividends earlier. If the Swans had been losing instead of drawing or drawing instead of winning, the players would have started to doubt Rodgers’ philosophy. Style would have been sacrificed for survival. There are such fine margins between safety and getting sucked into a relegation scrap, it’s hard to overstate Vorm’s importance.

It’s a surprise that a team further up the pecking order haven’t made a move for the Dutchman. Surprising on one had, but less so when considering the numerous statements Vorm has made about his fondness for Copperopolis well known. He likes the place, his family seem to like the place and he’s not planning to go anywhere. The appreciation seems to be reciprocated by the fans as he was voted Supporters’ Player of the Year, an award that will sit nicely beside his Players’ Player of the Year.

With Michael Laudrup trying to rebuild a squad relieved of some of its key performers from last season, Vorm’s importance has grown. His reactions, agility and athleticism will be required even more this year in what will be a tricky campaign. He pulled of some outstanding and crucial saves last season and more is required this year. His relatively small stature means he doesn’t command the aerial duels as much as you’d like, but this is a very small Achilles’ heel in comparison to his huge contribution to the team.

Behind him is Gerhard Tremmel, another less heralded, but shrewd Rodgers’ signing. He arrived on a free not long before last summer’s transfer window shut. He’s vastly experienced and did little wrong when called into action for a couple of cup matches and one league game last term. Ideally you’d prefer to see Vorm in goal for the majority of the season, but the Swans’ back-up is more than capable of filling in.

The younger option is David Cornell. The 21 year old has been a Swan since 2008, but only has one appearance for the club to his name. He’s had a couple of loan spells in a bid to build up his experience and it would be no surprise to see another this campaign.

Vorm avoiding the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’ is crucial for Swansea. He was already an important part of the team, but if possible, the Swans will rely on him even more this year. His saves will again be important in the manager’s vision being accepted by players, fans and the media. No pressure then.

Swansea are 9/2 to finish in the Top 10 of the Premier League – BET NOW


Competition among goalkeepers is good news for Stoke



1st Team Goalkeepers: Thomas Sorensen (36), Asmir Begovic (25), Carlo Nash (38)

If ever the benefit of having two reliable goalkeeping options need an example, Stoke’s 2011/12 campaign was it. Asmir Begovic began the season in superb form and showed why rumours of interest from the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United was more than the newspapers filling gossip sections. His agility and command of his penalty area stood out as positives and he complemented the Potters’ well organised defence perfectly.

Then came a dip in form. A series of less assured performances culimanted with a calamitous performance in Stoke’s surprise 5-0 defeat to Bolton at the Reebok. With the comfort of having a tried and trusted goalkeeper in reserve, Tony Pulis took swift action and installed Thomas Sorensen as his number one. It probably didn’t feel like it at the time, but it will stand to Begovic and ultimately his desire to improve will only improve Stoke.

Begovic is still young enough to be learning his trade. His natural ability is obvious and the lapses in concentration that result in some of his errors are likely to decrease as he gets more and more playing time under his belt. It’s easy to forget that last season was essentially his first as first choice for a Premier League team.

Sorensen is one of the most experienced Premier League performers still playing. It had looked like his career was in danger of petering out on the bench, but the move to Stoke has reinvigorated him. He’s not as spritely as he was when he was younger, but his confidence and assurance is of big benefit to the club. There will be a few errors for time to time, but they should be in the tiny minority in comparison to the positive contribution he makes to the team.

Carlo Nash is the third string option and he’s a good option to have should misfortune mean he’s called into action.

Stoke are 15/8 to finish in the Top 10 of the Premier League – BET NOW