Competition between classy keepers will benefit Sunderland

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Sunderland

1st Team Goalkeepers: Simon Mignolet (23), Keiran Westwood (27)

The major move within Sunderland’s goalkeeping ranks over summer was the departure of Craig Gordon. The numbers men will point to the £9 million fee and his leaving on a free transfer as a sign of failure, but there were more than enough extenuating circumstances to explain the disappointing spell. The highly rated Scot struggled with injury after injury. Just when it looked like he was on the verge of return, he was almost invariably struck down with a further ailment. When he did play, his talent was obvious. Gordon managed 95 appearances for the Black Cats, but it’s easy to understand why Martin O’Neill decided against keeping him at the club any longer. With some luck and some good health, Gordon still has the time to forge a good career for himself somewhere.

It leaves Sunderland with two talented options for the season ahead. Simon Mignolet is a good young keeper. His reactions are sharp, agility is good and physicality well suited to the league. His big achilles heel however is his judgement. He seems to read the flight of crosses incorrectly more than is ideal. His handling can also be sketchy and will need to improve if he is to be considered one of the best keepers in the league.

After a handful of starts in his first season at the Stadium of Light, Keiran Westwood is very much playing second fiddle to the Belgian. Signed on a free transfer from Coventry, the Irish international made a good start to his Sunderland career when filling in for the injured Mignolet. With his agility and stunning reflexes, he seemed to have convinced Steve Bruce of his ability, but when Bruce was handed his P45, he then had to repeat the trick by impressing O’Neill. The Northern Irishman seems to be harder to win over. With Shay Given opting for retirement from international football, it’s a big season for Westwood and he needs to get some first team football under his belt. That should lead to some intense competition for places and Sunderland should be the ones to benefit.

Sunderland are 11/10 to finish in the Top 10 of the Premier League – BET NOW


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Federici has a big part to play in Reading’s top flight return

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Reading

1st Team Goalkeepers: Adam Federici (27), Alex McCarthy (22), Mikkel Andersen (21), Jonathon Henly (19)

A lot like the club he plays for, Adam Federici returns to the Premier League looking like a stronger and more streamlined version of what we saw a few years ago. Reading have had a couple of years in the wilderness, but last season’s form suggests they’re well able for life in the Premier League. The same can be said for the Australian.

The ‘chubby keeper’ cliché can be frustrating, but there’s no doubt that Federici was a little on the heavy side in recent seasons. He was still incredibly agile and his reactions got him out of a lot of trouble, but he has shed the extra pounds and his performances have benefited from it. He retains his ability and he’s coming into his prime. If the Royals are to avoid going straight back down, Federici’s good form is going to need to continue. The good news is, there’s every chance it will.

Behind him in the pecking order is Alex McCarthy. Thanks to Federici’s declining weight, McCarthy has been forced to wait for his chance. McCarthy has been on the radar as a hot prospect for a few years now, but he hasn’t had too many chances at the Madjeski Stadium. The young Englishman has been at the club since 2007 and no less than eight loan spells elsewhere in a bid to build up his experience. On a number of those spells, he’s impressed and he is genuine competition for the starting role at Reading. He’s tall, agile, assertive and his handling is assured. He really is player of immense potential and should be able to fill in if Federici struggles or is unavailable.

Mikkel Andersen has a very similar profile to McCarthy. He’s young, talented and been shipped out to build up his experience. Again, he has been praised for his performances during this loan spells, but he’s unlikely to get too much playing time in the Premier League this season. Another loan spell is likely.

There’s a lot of things to be happy about as Brian McDermott looks to re-establish the Royals in the Premier League. If Federici delivers, that task will be a whole lot easier. If he doesn’t, it could be a big year for McCarthy. Either way, Reading have a strong hand when it comes to their custodians.

Reading are 4/7 to avoid relegation from the Premier League – BET NOW


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Green signing should help an improving QPR

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QPR

1st Team Goalkeepers: Rob Green (32), Radek Cerny (38), Brian Murphy (29)

Queens Park Rangers have been very busy in the transfer market and they’ve done very well on the goalkeeper merry-go-round. With Paddy Kenny departing to rekindle his partnership with Neil Warnock, Mark Hughes moved to bring Rob Green in on a free. It’s a good bit of business because although Kenny was brilliant for the Rs on occasion during his two year spell at Loftus Road, last season was a disappointment. There weren’t many clangers or howlers, but he failed to perform to the best of his ability and struggled to keep out shots that you would expect a Premier League standard keeper to deal with.

In contrast, Rob Green comes in on the back of a good season with West Ham. When talk of a possible departure from West Ham surfaced, it looked to be mainly posturing for an improved whopping contract with the club. It was a bit surprising when Sam Allardyce called his bluff and let him go. Behind the scenes, there’s every chance that the move across London was always Green’s intention, but whatever the reason, QPR have done well from the deal.

After the nightmare of his 2010 World Cup howler, Green has quietly been rebuilding his reputation. It hasn’t always been smooth, but the part he played in West Ham’s promotion showed how much he has to offer. Green has excellent reactions and his experience is a huge asset. The resilience he has shown since South Africa is commendable and he’s worth another chance in the top flight. He doesn’t always get it right and there will undoubtedly be a few shaky moments, but he’ll still earn his team more points than he’ll cost them.

Radek Cerny impressed when deputising for Kenny last season, to the point where many fans were asking why he wasn’t the first choice more often. There’s no doubt Cerny is a very talented keeper, but throughout his career, bouts of good form have been undermined by frequent errors. He can go a few games of looking top class, but before too long there will be a costly error. At 38 years of age, he’s a good option to have on the bench, but relying on him for a long period isn’t ideal.

Brian Murphy signed on a free from Ipswich last season. He hasn’t got much playing time since then, but he’s got a good bit of experience and he’s a solid option to have in reserve.

Just how Rob Green gets on in his return to the Premier League will have a big bearing on how QPR progress this season. After narrowly escaping relegation last season, better is expected this time around. That goes for Green too.

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


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Things could get even better for Norwich’s rising star Ruddy

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Norwich

1st Team Goalkeepers: John Ruddy (25), Declan Rudd (21), Jed Steer (19)

Norwich superseded many people’s expectations in their return to the top flight and John Ruddy’s season mirrored that of the club almost perfectly. Simply put, he was brilliant and he fully deserved his call up to the England squad for Euro 2012. A broken finger caused him to miss that trip, but it’s unlikely to be his last involvement with the international set up.

Similar to his club, Ruddy arrived in the Premier League with acclaim, but doubts about his ability to step up to the next level. It didn’t take long for those doubts to silenced. He was excellent from day one and his agility and reflexes were an important part of getting the Canaries up and running rather than scraping around for points.

The new season promises much for Ruddy. Last season he performed to a high level, but with more experience and youth on his side, he could get even better. The main area to improve upon is his angles. His speed and movement often cover for errors in this department, but there were times when suspect positioning made things easier for the strikers than they needed to be.

Ruddy is the undisputed number one and barring a huge dip in form, Chris Hughton is unlikely to turn to his back-up goalkeepers too often. Declan Rudd is very highly rated, but hasn’t had much first team football in the last couple of seasons. He has the ability to succeed, but when it comes to the Premier League, experience is invaluable and he needs playing time. The same can be said for Jed Steer. He’s appeared for England’s underage sides, but not featured much at Carrow Road. He spent part of last season on loan with Yeovil and another spell learning his trade is likely.

The future looks bright for Norwich’s goalkeepers and the present isn’t bad either. If anything, Hughton might want to look at bringing in a more experienced back-up just in case Ruddy was to miss a big part of the season. Other than that, they can be pretty happy.

Norwich are 13/2 to finish in the Top 10 of the Premier League – BET NOW


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Krul’s rise is vital for Newcastle’s renaissance

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Newcastle United

1st Team Goalkeepers: Tim Krul (24), Rob Elliot (26), Steve Harper (37)

Last season was Tim Krul’s breakthrough season. He’d got first team opportunities in the past and showed signs of ability, but he really came of age during Alan Pardew’s first full season in charge. The goalscoring exploits of Demba Ba and later Papiss Cisse were credited with firing the Magpies to their best finish since 2004, but Krul’s performances deserve to be mentioned as a key part of the success. In the early part of the season, he was simply sensational, pulling off incredible reflex saves on an almost weekly basis. At the other end, the goals kept coming, but without Krul’s contribution they wouldn’t have earned as many points as they did.

One long standing criticism of Krul was his tendency to have a rush of blood to the head and do something ill-advised, but last season there was a maturity to his play. Uncertainty and jittery-ness look to be a thing of the past and he has become one of the best keepers in the league – a fact backed up by (not unwarranted) calls for him to start at Euro 2012 ahead of Maarten Stekelenburg for the Netherlands. If Newcastle are to build on the progress of last season, Krul needs to maintain that high standard of performance and there’s little reason to think he won’t do that.

A sign of just how much Krul has developed is Pardew’s willingness to let the highly rated Fraser Forster join Celtic permanently. At one point, it looked like the Englishman would challenge Krul for the starting place, but the Dutchman has grabbed the number one jersey and wasn’t going to let it go anytime soon.

Nowadays, Newcastle have the option of youth or experience in reserve. Steve Harper is closing in on 20 years at the club. For much of that time, he has found opportunities limited but he’s a very solid back up. He’s not the most agile goalkeeper in the league, but he does the basics well and useful to have around the place. Last year it looked like he might move on in search of more first team football, but after a spell on loan at Brighton, looks happy to stay.

Rob Elliot is the more youthful option. Signed last season from Charlton, he has yet to get an extended run in the first team, with just one league cup appearance to his name. He’s got plenty of experience under his belt, so if he is called upon, there should be little to worry about for the Toon Army faithful.

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De Gea showing signs of delivering for Manchester United

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Manchester United

1st Team Goalkeepers: David de Gea (21), Anders Lindegaard (28), Sam Johnstone (19), Ben Amos (22) [on loan at Hull]

It’s safe to say that wasn’t quite the debut season David de Gea had in mind when he made the move from Atletico Madrid, but a strong second half of the campaign ensured he’s far from a write off just yet. In the first few months of the season he was roundly criticised for not being able to handle the generic ‘tough stuff’ often ascribed to the Premier League. There may be a kernel of truth in that, but it falls some way sort of explaining the variety of errors from de Gea.

Personally, I would put his mistakes down to over-thinking. Essentially, what we have is a young man in a foreign country doing one of the most high pressure jobs in world football. Certainly in his early days, his desire not to make mistakes seemed to make his sluggish to react and he failed to execute some fairly routine skills. As he settled however, he felt more comfortable and his natural instincts came into play. He was far sharper and alert in the second half of the season and if he maintains the progression, United may well have a high quality performer for the next decade or more.

Anders Lindegaard was the man who capitalised on de Gea’s troubles early on. He was very determined to become first choice at Old Trafford and he impressed when Fergie chopped and changed in the early part of the season. His honeymoon period wasn’t going to last forever and some ill-advised decisions of his own made him look less like the answer to United’s goalkeeping issues. He still remains a good option to have in reserve, but certainly de Gea is expected to be first choice for the majority of the season.

Ben Amos has been allowed to go out on loan to Hull for a season. He has performed reasonably well when called up for first team duty, but barring an injury crisis, he’s unlikely to see much playing time this season and the move makes sense. Sam Johnstone could also benefit for first team action somewhere, but Fergie might just keep him around for the occasional Capital One Cup outing.

With Robin van Persie coming on board, it’s a time for optimism at Old Trafford, but if de Gea’s development hits a stumbling block, it has the potential to derail the progress.

Manchester United are 2/1 to win the Premier League – BET NOW


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Joe Hart is crucial for Manchester City’s title defence

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Manchester City

1st Team Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (25), Costel Pantilimon (25), Gunnar Nielsen (25)

Last year was about as good as it gets for Manchester City, but aside from bagging their first Premier League title, there were encouraging signs from the goalkeeping ranks. Joe Hart combined his ability with increased maturity and was duly voted into the PFA’s Team of the Season. There can be few arguments and his contributions were vital in what turned out to be the closest title race of the Premier League era. Prior to last year’s success, Hart had something of a tendency to lose concentration on occasion, but there was little evidence of the flaw last season.

Behind him is the sizeable presence of Costel Pantilimon. He was limited to appearances in the domestic cup competitions in his first season with the club, but he impressed on his handful of appearances and the loanee was signed up permanently in December of last year. Despite standing over two metres tall, he’s incredibly quick and agile and should Joe Hart be unavailable, he’s a more than able deputy. He lacks the experience of Hart, but based on ability alone, City fans won’t be too worried if he’s called into action. There was a timely reminder of the consistency he needs to achieve to truly challenge Hart in the Community Shield. Filling in for the injured first choice, his fumbling of a simple shot gifted Chelsea a goal. It wasn’t a costly error, but more a sign of how important Hart’s form is to City.

Gunnar Nielsen was actually released by the club at the end of the 2011-12 season, but with long time back-up, Stuart Taylor opting to leave on a free, the club moved quickly to re-sign the Faroe Islands international.

Interestingly, City have also been linked with a move for emerging star, Jack Butland. With Hart and Pantilimon at their disposal, you’d have to think it’s an unnecessary purchase, but if it was to happen, it would make City’s goalkeeping options very strong.

Manchester City are 11/8 to win the Premier League – BET NOW


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