Cech once again needs to deliver for Chelsea


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Chelsea

1st Team Goalkeepers: Petr Cech (30), Henrique Hilario (36), Ross Turnbull (27), Thibaut Courtois (20) [on loan at Atletico Madrid], Matej Delac (19) [on loan at Vitoria Guimaraes]

Petr Cech’s excellent performances in Chelsea’s remarkable run to Champions League glory seemed to put paid to the sporting obituaries that were being prematurely penned for him. During that run, he pulled of heroics to keep Benfica, Napoli and Barcelona at bay and followed it up with a brilliant performance in the final against Bayern Munich. Then he went to the European Championship and the concerns resurfaced. The goal he gifted Greece in the group stages gave the detractors more evidence to suggest he’s on a decline.

That’s harsh, but there’s no doubt that Cech is less reliable than he once was. In particular, he seems to be too conscious of putting his head in dangerous places. When a task involves getting down low at the feet of attackers, he seems hesitant, almost as if he fears the prospect of physical contact. It leads to him momentarily losing concentration and it has cost Chelsea goals.

Overall however, he’s still a world-class performer. If he is to return to his best form, he will need to rediscover that fearlessness he showed in his first few years at Chelsea. It’s a lot easier said than done, especially knowing another incident like the one with Stephen Hunt would put his life, let alone career, in jeopardy. Even if he doesn’t reach those heights, he’s good enough to be a solid performer and one of the best keepers in the league.

His successor will be Thibaut Courtois. The young Belgian is learning his trade with Atletico Madrid for another season, but such is his progress the temptation to bring him back to the Bridge must be strong. The 20 year old impressed many with his maturity and consistency in Madrid last season and he is undoubtedly one of the best young keepers in the world. All in all however, playing the long game is the right way to go as the benefit of having him play another season in one of the world’s best leagues will reap dividends in the future.

One player who might take issue with the ‘Courtois as Cech’s successor’ theory is Ross Turnbull. Since arriving from Middlesbrough, he has found his opportunities limited. As he approaches his late 20s, he’ll be eager to establish himself as starter and that’s unlikely to happen at Chelsea. He’s a good keeper, but probably falls just short of the high standard required for league and Champions League contenders.

Henrique Hilario is the experienced back up option. He’s not a player you would want to rely up for too much of the season, but he’s capable of filling in for a couple of games if required. Matej Delac will spend another season out on loan after joining the Pensioners in 2010.

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Szczesny Stars For Arsenal – 10 Goalkeepers Who Had A Good 2011

10 Goalkeepers Who’ll Look Back On 2011 with Fondness

Szczesny

Tim Krul (Newcastle)
Much improved on the Krul of old. For years the talent was obvious but the confidence was lacking. Last season was a case in point whereby his ability to make big saves was undermined with rushes of blood to the head and a string of inexplicable decisions. The 2011-12 season has seen a much improved Krul. He has developed an air of genuine authority and dominated his penalty area like never before. He has had a string of truly exceptional performances for Newcastle and established himself as one of the best in the league.

Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal)
Not dissimilar to Krul, Szczesny seems to be a more commanding and mature presence this season than the earlier version we had seen. After an impressive start to his Arsenal career, he made a handful of slip-ups that in some quarters warranted the application of the lazy and grossly unfair label of being ‘another Wenger keeper’. Since then however, he has responded superbly and his superb performances early in the season prevented a bad start to the season being a whole lot worse. Since then, Robin Van Persie has taken centre stage, but the contribution of the young Pole is not to be underestimated.

Michel Vorm (Utrecht, now Swansea)
Dutch football has few issues in producing top class talent, but the record of that talent flourishing in the Premier League is more patchy. Vorm had caught the eye while at Utrecht and thankfully his transition to English football has been more Van Nistelrooy than Kezman. His speed, agility and athleticism have lit up the league and already Swansea know they’ll have a job on their hands fending off the advances of the cash-rich vultures in the summer. Buy of the season? There’s a few months to go, but he’s already established a useful lead.

Manuel Neuer (Schalke, now Bayern Munich)
2011 wasn’t exactly his breakout year, but it did see him claim his place amongst the world’s elite. He was outstanding in Schalke’s unlikely run to the semi-finals of the Champions League and since he has handled the move to Bayern Munich very well, particularly in view of some of the pointless vitriol aimed at him by a small minority of Bayern ‘fans’. It’ll take another decade of high quality performances to establish himself as one of the greats in Bayern’s storied history, but the early evidence is he’s well positioned to do it.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Borussia Monchengladbach)
These are halcyon days for German goalkeepers and amidst a range of young custodians currently impressing in the Bundesliga, ter Stegen is arguably the most remarkable. He made his senior debut for the club as an 18 year old back in April of this year and has since has establish himself as not only first choice, but one of the most exciting goalkeeping talents in European football. Agile, aggressive and with a penchant for vocal organisation of his defenders, he’s very much in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from a German goalkeeper and it’s only a matter of time before he puts pressure on Neuer for the starting berth with the Mannschaft.

Ochoa

Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio)
The football world has known about Ochoa for several years now, but after a minor drugs controversy the interest of Europe’s big clubs dropped of substantially. Cognoscente of this fact, the Mexican made the surprise move of joining unfashionable Corsican outfit Ajaccio over the summer. Ochoa has always indicated this is intended as a step in the rehabilitation of his reputation with a view for moving up the ladder of European football at a later date and so far the gamble has paid off. Although his team sit at the bottom of the league with the worst goals conceded record, he has been in exceptional form, putting in a number of excellent displays to at least give the campaign a semblance of respectability. Ochoa will be moving on at the end of the season (if not sooner) and his performances in 2011 will be a large part of the reason why.

Thibaut Courtois (Genk, Atletico Madrid via Chelsea)
For Courtois 2011 merely continued the whirlwind that began the year previous when he broke through during Genk’s championship winning in Belgium. Immediately he stood out as something special, but there was still a degree of surprise when Chelsea snapped first and signed him for a fee rumoured to be around the £8 million mark. It was going to take a while before he truly challenged Petr Cech for the starting spot, so he was sent out to Atletico Madrid to learn his trade. This season has been typically turbulent for the red and white half of the Spanish capital, but the youngster has emerged with great credit for a series of athletic and mature displays. Given the startling collapse in Cech’s form, the eyes of the Chelsea coaching staff will be watching closely in coming months. If the call comes in 2012, Courtois might well be able to answer it.

Willy Caballero (Malaga)
As both clubs have regularly occupied the same tier of Spanish football in recent years, it feels a little odd to say that Malaga plucked Caballero from obscurity when they signed him as emergency cover from Elche earlier this year. With their petro-dollars however, the Anchovies have become an undisputed big fish of La Liga and Caballero has established his own place in the pond with a few months of solid performances. In a league filled with supremely talented goalkeepers, he doesn’t stand out as the most naturally gifted of players but he has an uncommon determination about him and that invaluable knack of always being able to get some part of his body in the way of the ball. The millions burning a hole in the pocket of the owner may mean they soon go more a more high profile name between the posts, but for the moment Caballero is a reliable part of the revolution.

Jason Steele (Middlesbrough)
Young, gifted and English has been something of a curse for goalkeepers in the last couple of decades, but this season Steele has suggested there’s something more to him than bluster and a nation’s desire to build up young goalkeepers only to knock them down. Boro have the best defensive record in the Championship this season and although he can’t claim all the credit for that, he has certainly played his part in it. You couldn’t exactly classify Tony Mowbray’s men as rampant free-scorers and as such, Steele’s saves have been hugely important in seeing his team through games that are balanced on a knife-edge. He’s got the agility and reflexes to become a top class keeper and although the plan will be to go up with Middlesbrough, he may find himself in the Premier League next season regardless of how the promotion push goes. There’s going to be a few blips along the way, but Steele has enjoyed a good year and it may be the first of many more.

Brad Friedel (Tottenham)
During his last few months at Aston Villa, Friedel gave the impression he was a goalkeeper coming to the end of his career. He was still capable of producing a moment of brilliance, but the legs seemed heavy and his limbs unable to execute the impulses of his brain. Were it not for financial difficulties, retirement may well have been the order of the day, but some bad investments have necessitated extending his career into his 5th decade. Unsurprisingly, Harry Redknapp wasn’t put off by his age and the risk has been rewarded with a series of high quality performances for Spurs. Again, he may not be around for much longer, but he’s enjoying a wonderful Indian summer and fans of goalkeeping would be well advised to enjoy it while they can.

Why David de Gea will and won’t succeed at Manchester United

David de Gea at Manchester United

It looks like a deal is done. All it needs is for the paperwork to be finalised and Rio Ferdinand to take him on a tour of Manchester’s finest hotspots. David de Gea looks certain to being leaving Atletico Madrid for Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson has chosen the young Spaniard as the man to fill the sizeable gloves of Edwin van der Sar and the task of replacing a legend in goals begins again. It’s not always a task Fergie has performed with aplomb.

Despite having what Fergie described as a last-minute ‘wobble’,van der Sar heads off into the sunset. The rumours, speculation and posturing from agents looking to push their clients into the frame can come to an end and we can concentrate on arguably the hottest prospect amongst the emerging talents of the goalkeeping ranks as he makes his way at Old Trafford. For some time now, I’ve been certain that de Gea is good enough to make it at Man Utd. But – there’s always the get-out clause of a ‘but’ – his success at Old Trafford will depend on various intangibles we don’t know enough about at present. Here’s a look at the case for and against a long and successful stint at Old Trafford for de Gea.

Why It Will Work:
Quite simply, de Gea has the raw talent to make it at Old Trafford. He’s very agile, he’s got good hands, he’s generally confident in dealing with the high ball, he’s quick off his line – he’s a really solid all round performer. Making the comparison with van der Sar may seem overly convenient considering the timing, but long before there was talk of a move to the Premier League, the resemblance to the Dutchman in terms of physical build and style was obvious.

There was something rather gangly, lanky and almost rigid about van der Sar. At first glance you’d question if he has the agility to make it as top class goalkeeper, but it didn’t take long before he’d hurl himself across the goal with speed that seems to defy the psychical capabilities of his stature. Combined with that, he had the softness of hands to ensure he gathered almost everything at the first attempt and an uncommon ability to do the simple things with a minimum of fuss or drama. A lot of the same can be said about de Gea. Admittedly, his career in top flight football has been going for less than two seasons as opposed to the two decades of van der Sar, but already in that time he has shown himself to be talented and in time he will hope to achieve the remarkable consistency of his predecessor in the United goal.

What has perhaps impressed my most about the young Spaniard has been his attitude. It would be deeply disingenuous to suggest he’s been flawless since arriving in the Atletico Madrid first team. There have been errors and it’s these moments the critics will highlight as being major weaknesses. In response I would make the following points. Firstly, every goalkeeper will make mistakes and that’s an unavoidable constant. Whether it’s Iker Casillas in a World Cup final or a meaningless five a side with friends, there are going to be those moments when you cringe at the simplicity of an error. Secondly, the frequency of the mistakes de Gea makes is relatively low for an elite goalkeeper of any age and especially low for an elite goalkeeper of his tender years. And – without wanting to entirely shift the blame to someone else – playing behind a defence like Atletico’s last season is likely to leave you more exposed than most.

Even when he has made his mistakes, I’ve been impressed. He recovered well and didn’t inhibit his future decisions. At once, It was cleared out of his mind and he carried on continued to command his penalty area with authority and play like a goalkeeper bubbling with confidence. His response when asked about the relatively colossal transfer fee involved in his move to Manchester United spoke volumes about his character and focus. “The fact that I could become one of the most expensive goalkeepers ever does not interest me. The value that really counts is what you do on the pitch,” he insisted. Placing too much emphasis on the obligatory answers given by footballers in interview situations is dangerous, but I find the focus and determination to be extraordinary for a young man and in terms of his attitude, the Premier League should hold no concerns.

Why It Won’t Work:
If the talent isn’t in doubt, then the questions marks must arise elsewhere. How he handles the intense scrutiny that comes with the territory of being the Man Utd first choice goalkeeper is the main area of concern. The suggestion implicit in that claim is that his temperament is suspect which is hugely unfair on de Gea. I could probably claim to be a closer acquaintance of the Queen than I am to the Spaniard, so I lack any sort of personal insight, but from what I’ve cobbled together from interviews and the dubious accuracy of Google translate de Gea seems to be a young man of uncommon maturity, focus and levelheadedness. It’s speculative, but his career to date paints a picture of a character comfortable in the spotlight. He already has Europa League and European U17 Championship medals to his name and although that won’t compare the pressure that comes with the latter stages of the Champions League or a crucial end of season Premier League game, it’s more than the vast majority of his contemporaries.

Although Atletico are no longer amongst the elite in La Liga, their substantial fanbase means they continue to receive extensive coverage in the pages of the Spanish sports dailies. He’s well accustomed to microphones being thrust into his face and seemingly innocuous comments being twisted and shaped into something more interesting and significantly less factual. The spotlight is nothing new to him, but just how brightly it shines at Old Trafford may take a while to get used to. I have little knowledge of the Spanish sports press, but it would take something remarkable if they could match the vicious vitriol their British counterparts launch in to every time a goalkeeper commits – in their informed opinion – a ‘howler’. In my opinion, the ridicule of Robert Green in the British press following his error at the World Cup was a disgrace to rival some of the most shameful moments in Fleet Street history and my concerns about de Gea succeeding at Manchester United are almost entirely based on the pack of wolves viciousness of the press.

If he makes a couple of errors early on in his Old Trafford career, the labels will start to fly. He’ll be called a flapper, spoken of as a waste of money and tarred with the brush of being another one of Fergie’s ‘continental’ keepers who just doesn’t have the machismo to make it in the man’s world that is Premier League football. Application of the ‘continental’ label would be particularly erroneous as if anything, de Gea is more British in style than the geographically vague categorisation that comes with being from mainland Europe. The accuracy of the labels is something of a red herring anyway, because my point is, for all their struggles with truly understanding the nature of goalkeeping, the British media are experts on establishing consensus, regardless of how true a reflection of reality it is. If they start to bang the drum that de Gea isn’t good enough, it’s only a matter of time before it takes hold with the fans and the pressure builds. Fergie may pride himself on being his own man, but rarely in his entire tenure at Old Trafford has his selection policy differed too greatly from the notions of the fans. He may have occasionally stuck with a player for slightly too long, but – unless out of absolute necessity – it’s rare that he’ll persist with a player that the fans have identified as being sub-standard. de Gea appears to be mentally strong enough to ignore the press, but as a young man in his 20s in a new environment, losing the confidence of a manager who has convinced to him make the trip is another matter.

We wait with immense interest and fans of football and goalkeeping will hope that we see the best of de Gea in coming years.

Goalkeeper World Rankings

The Ministry’s Top Ten Goalkeepers In The World

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (2) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
3. (3) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
4. (4) Edwin Van Der Sar (Man Utd)
5. (5) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
6. (7) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
7. (6) Shay Given (Man City and Ireland)
8. (8) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
9. (9) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
10. (-) David de Gea (Atletico Madrid)

For yet another month, there can be little debate about Iker Casillas at the top of our Goalkeeper World Rankings. Critics may point to a costly error at the San Siro that handed AC Milan a goal, but on that occasion, it was a handling error accentuated by over-aggression and over confidence. Anticipating a cross along the six yard box, he took a step off his line, only to be left virtually stranded as the pass was skewed towards goal. His other performances in the last month were largely flawless however and he has plenty going for him in the pro column. Not for the first time, it’s the quality of his saves rather than overwhelming quantity that makes him so impressive. With Real’s new Galacticos routinely dismantling opponents, his involvement is kept to a minimum, but time over time throughout November he came up trumps for his team when called upon. His concentration is supreme and a great addition to his obvious athleticism. His performance could be the decisive factor in the first Clasico of the season on Monday,

Chelsea’s swift reversal of fortune has been dramatic, but the sudden glut of balls Petr Cech is now picking out of his net are no reflection on his performances. Throughout the crisis, he has remained firm and in actual fact minimized the impact of the faltering defence in front of him.

In an interesting twitter exchange with Shaka Hislop, we learned the former Newcastle and West Ham goalkeeper thinks our #3, Gigi Buffon is “well past his best”. It seems a harsh assessment for a players we haven’t seen since the World Cup in June, but clearly there’s something in the Italians game that Hislop has identified as being a concern. By his own admission, the Trinidad and Tobago international said he felt a deterioration in his own performance at around the age of 36 or 37 whilst he was still at Upton Park. Although it feels like he’s been around since the advent of the wheel, Buffon doesn’t turn 33 until next January. That would give a few more years in his relative prime to defy the predictions of Hislop. For the time being at least, we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt and leaving him largely untouched in the World Rankings until he eventually returns from injury.

Elsewhere on the list, there is little change. Pepe Reina is performing well behind a misfiring Liverpool team and something similar can be said of the 40 year old Edwin van der Sar. Shay Given continues to slide based almost solely on his inability to usurp Joe Hart in the Man City team. Hart is doing little wrong and with Mancini struggling to keep fans onside, he may just stick with the residual benefit that comes from sticking with the Englishman.

David de Gea makes his first appearance on the World Rankings list after another strong month, taking the Spanish representation to 4. Atletico Madrid are being their typically inconsistent selves, but were it not for his performances, they’d be simply be their atypical woeful selves. As we’ve said many times in the past, De Gea looks to have the complete package and one thing that’s stood out over the last few games is his desire to take command in his penalty area. It’s standard for most experienced keepers, but for man who only a few weeks ago left his teenage years, it’s impressive. Igor Akineev is the goalie to drop out of the Top 10. A few weeks ago we expressed concern about his handling and over reliance on punching when Ireland hosted Russia in a Euro 2012 qualifier and our follow up scouting missions of CSKA Moscow games found this to be the norm rather than the exception. It’s probably rather telling that speculation linking him with a move to Europe’s top clubs has died down in recent months.

The keeper of the month award goes to Casillas with Cech and De Gea occupying the places. He’ll no doubt be delighted.

David de Gea & Maksym Koval

Maksym Koval

The Nets Big Things?
We hadn’t heard about it before, but every decade or so, the lovely folks at Don Balon – a Spanish language football magazine publish their list of players they’re expecting to make it big. Only players born after the 1st January 1989 qualify on this occasion and at first glance, it’s certainly not the most ridiculous set of predictions we’ve ever read – although we do read Mystic Meg’s horoscopes every day of the week.

In the past, some of their predictions were spot on – Fernando Torres & Kaka – whilst others haven’t quite gone on the fulfil the potential the magazine had identified – David Prutton and Keith Kelly (now plying his trade in the Jamaican Premier League.

When it comes to goalkeepers they don’t tend to stick their neck out a whole lot, but we’ll cut them some slack because goalkeepers under the age of 21 who’ve broken into their respective teams rival ‘Louis Walsh heading home with a woman after a night out’ in terms of rarity. Their patchy record of prediction in this position may also go some why to explaining the reluctance to name names. In the 2001 version of the list, they put forward just two selections. The first was Chris Kirkland – then a highly rated youngster with Coventry. To give him his due, injury has had a huge impact on his progress, but with his 30th birthday coming next year, he looks unlikely to ever live up to the billing he was once given.

If the success of Kirkland can be argued, the choice of Rubinho can’t. Back in 2001 he had earned a hatful of caps for the Brazilian U20 side and was starting to establish himself as a regular with Corinthians, but since arriving in Europe the star-bound trajectory he was on has dipped. Again, to give him his dues, he was a regular with Genoa in Serie A for a couple of seasons, but things have taken a turn for the worse and now he’s on loan with Serie B side, Torino.

This year the folks at Don Balon have again tipped just two members of the goalkeeper union for stardom. The first being Atletico Madrid keeper, David de Gea. We’ve praised de Gea to the rafters at the Ministry Of Glove, so much so that anything other than his transformation into a 24 foot by 8 foot wall of impregnability would be classed as a failure. He continues to make huge strides and he looks destined to become one of the world’s top goalkeepers for the bulk of the next two decades. That feels a lot like a curse of the commentator in the making, so we’ll move on.

The second selection is a lot more out of left field. It’s Maksym Koval of Dynamo Kiev. He won’t turn 18 until December, but already he’s found time to be linked with a move to Arsenal, make several appearances for the Ukrainian U19 national team and play a handful of Premier League games for the club that nurtured him, Metalurh Zaporizhya. To be honest, there isn’t a lot of information out there about him, but it would seem making the grade at Dynamo Kiev is going to be tough. They seem to have an abundance of young goalkeepers to choose from and time may well see him drop down the pecking order. From the statistics we’re using, it would also appear that he’s amassed an interesting little collection on yellow cards from not a huge amount of games. Last season he picked up 3 of them for Zaporizhya in 19 games. It’s nothing conclusive but those rather hint at temperament issues.

Interestingly, a few more high profile goalkeepers who were eligible for the list have been omitted, most notably, de Gea’s Atletico team-mate, Sergio Asenjo. The lack of an English name on the list may be of a concern for Fabio Capello, but the chances are he’ll be long since departed from the England hotseat by the time it matters. Equally, we’ve put forward the case for Jonas Lossl here before, but he clearly hasn’t made enough of an impact to have grabbed the compilers’ attention.

Given the success of some of the previous predictions, that may not be a bad thing.

The full Don Balon list (from the Spoiler)

Latest Goalkeeper News

Goalkeeper News

FastGlove
– After Robert Green aimed some choice gestures towards the journalistic corps at Upton Park last weekend, Hammers owner David Gold explains that there was “no malice” in it. We tend to disagree. Anyhoo, it would appear Green knows about as much about gesticulation as he does about holding onto a tamely struck shot. According to anthropologist, Desmond Morris, although the ‘Phallic Forearm Jerk’ is understood as an insult on the continent, in England it’s generally applied as “a crude form of sexual admiration”. We’re pretty sure that’s not what Green intended. Unless of course he has a more extreme plan for getting back into the journalists’ good books.

– In more Green related hilarity, Avram Grant says Green’s one good performance of the year is basically good enough to get him back into the national side. What’s more worrying for England is he’s not a million miles off the mark.

– Some good news in an otherwise bleak season for Shay Given. He avoids a driving ban for being nabbed doing 75mph in a 50mph zone. It’s not the the biggest speeding violation we’ve heard of involving a footballer, but it’s is substantially faster than the progress his career is making at present.

– In our now weekly piece entitled ‘which terrible goalkeeper is Arsene Wenger defending now?’ Arsene Wenger explains why blah, blah, … Fabianski …. rubbish … Almunia … worse .. To be honest, we stopped listening a couple of weeks ago.

– Oh to be young and naïve once again. David de Gea says he won’t be leaving Atletico Madrid for Man Utd because he’s got a contract until 2013. Oh David, you’ve got a lot to learn about the ways of the world and more importantly, how Fergie operates.

– And finally in the bit we’re cleverly calling our ‘and finally’ bit, here’s some footage of a goalie going a bit mental. It’s Khalid Askri of Moroccan side, FAR Rabat. Not long after falling foul to the incredible spinning ball, he has enough and storms off the pitch in style.

Progress Report: David De Gea (Atletico Madrid)

David De Gea
A few weeks back we had a look at David De Gea, the latest addition to the well populated ranks of young, talented Spanish goalkeepers. He looks to be progressing at a rate of knots and that opinion was only confirmed with a ‘finger in the dyke’ style performance for Atletico Madrid against the relentless waves of Barcelona attacks over the weekend. Los Colchoneros still went down 2-1, but without his efforts it would have been approaching double-figures.

In between the basics of picking up the ball with little difficulty, the evidence is on this video of De Gea’s performance: