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.

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Szczesny of Arsenal voted goalkeeper of the season

Wojciech Szczesny

Readers of ministryofglove.com have voted Arsenal goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny as the Premier League goalkeeper of the season. Szczesny (21) earned 35 per cent of the votes, David De Gea of Manchester United came second on 29 per cent with Michel Vorm of Swansea back in third on 11 per cent.

The young Pole’s natural ability has been apparent since his loan spell with Brentford in the 2009/10. When he finally made his Premier League debut for Arsenal against Manchester United at Old Trafford in December of 2010, he was a better keeper again from his time at Griffin Park, but not without his flaws. He experienced his ups and downs. In February of 2011, against Barcelona in the first leg of Champions League Last 16 at the Emirates, he pulled off a string of excellent saves to keep the Gunners in the tie and incredibly, lay the foundations for an unlikely win on the night. He received undue criticism for his role in the goal that handed Birmingham the Carling Cup later in the month, but in general, his performances suggested he still had some growing to do.

Thankfully, that growing up has happened remarkably fast. I don’t know how he spent the summer of 2011, but when he returned to the Emirates Stadium in August, he looked a bigger, more composed and authoritative figure. Previously he had the tendency to get involved when he didn’t need to – both on and off the pitch – but that feistiness has by and large been curbed and channeled into the more productive direction of leadership.

As a sign of his emerging influence at the club, it’s notable how many times he has been the one chosen for media duties, both in the build-up and after Arsenal matches. Despite only turning 22 years of age this coming Wednesday, he feels like one of Arsenal’s senior players and the role suits the more mature Szczesny perfectly. He comes across as focussed, but level-headed individual.

In this campaign he has been brilliant. Even as Arsenal stumbled their way through the early part of the season, he was excellent, making saves that eked out points for his team and stopped the club’s morale from being annihilated entirely. When Robin Van Persie clicked into gear, Arsenal’s season got up and running, but the good form of Szczesny was what ensured his goals went towards victories rather than smaller – or no – returns.

Szczesny has been brilliant this season and the underrated factor in Arsenal’s resurgence. With youth on his side, he has the time and capacity to develop further. If he gets a slice of good luck and good health, he has the potential to become an Arsenal and Premier League legend.

David De Gea was voted into second place on the poll. The Spaniard certainly has claims to the comeback of the season. His Old Trafford obituaries when being written after a poor adaptation to life in the Premier League, but since Christmas, his form has improved markedly and been crucial in forging the five point advantage United currently enjoy at the top of the table. He now cuts a more confident and comfortable figure than the forlorn young man in the glare of a critical spotlight a few months back. To draw what may in time prove to be an apt parallel, Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t overly effusive about Peter Schmeichel’s first season at Old Trafford and that worked out pretty well for all concerned. It’s premature, but with more learning to do, De Gea has shown he has the potential to have a long and successful career at the Theatre of Dreams.

Brendan Rodgers purchase of Michel Vorm was arguably the best bit of business conducted in the Premier League this season. He made his debut in the Swans 4-0 thumping at the hands of Manchester City, but the Dutchman came away from the game with immense credit. The stats say he made 11 saves that night and it’s hard to overstate how important those saves where. Had he made only five or six of those saves and Swansea went on to lose 8-0 or 9-0, immediately the squad would have doubted their ability to compete in the Premier League and almost certainly would not have enjoyed the season of free-flowing football they did. He came up big at crucial times several times during the campaign and Rodgers next managerial trick will be keeping him away from the grasp of clubs with more financial clout than the Swans.

The results in full

Szczesny (Arsenal) – 35.38%
De Gea (Man Utd) – 28.72%
Vorm (Swansea) – 10.77%
Krul (Newcastle) – 8.46%
Friedel (Tottenham) – 7.44%
Hart (Man City) – 5.38%
Al Habsi (Wigan) – 2.82%
Ruddy (Norwich) – 1.03%

ITV do Manchester United, De Gea and football no favours

David De Gea

In the absence of players communicating the newly-intensified rivalry between the two clubs by kicking each other and using terminology that belongs in a movie based in America’s Deep South at the start of the last century, ITV needed something to talk about. Liverpool and Manchester United’s FA Cup 4th Round tie sizzled and threatened to take off, but largely involved shadow boxing mixed with bursts of the real thing. In the 21st minute came the chance.

Liverpool, in an almost Pulis-esque stroke of maximising an advantage over an opponent, crowded around David De Gea prior to a corner kick. It was football’s version of survival of the fittest with De Gea clearly identified as the weakest of the herd. The cross came into that sort of grey area where commentators presume the goalkeeper can saunter off his line and pluck it out of the air and people who have played the position at any level know it’s never that straightforward. There was a shamozle – a comedy word carefully chosen to communicate the general disorder of the situation – and Daniel Agger rose unchallenged to head the opening goal. The replays showed United players falling over each other and the Dane converting the surprisingly facile chance. All that was lacking was a Benny Hill soundtrack and some canned laughter.

The uncertainty of De Gea’s panicky run didn’t flatter him. In the eyes of the commentators the fact none of the United defenders mustered even a faint challenge to Agger could be ignored and the goalkeeper singled out as the culprit – clueless, weak and an object to be bullied. Sadly, there were plenty of things to criticise De Gea for – the overall lack of command of his penalty area; the fumbly handling of the ball we rarely saw at Atletico Madrid; the strange mix of silly overconfidence on some occasions and the obvious lack of confidence on others – both of which lead to some poor choices. Despite some decent saves, he didn’t have a good game. Any decent analysis would have highlighted this and not just focused on one supposed howler. Criticism was warranted, but what we got was a shallow attack which skirted around the actual problems.

In the studio, the producers pointed their pundits to the incident like dog-handlers directing their famished charges to prime ribeye. It was seized upon it and the opinions for hire duly obliged. Paul Ince mumbled some comments about it not being good enough in that geezer-ish manner of talk that seems to undermine his points regardless if they’re valid or not. Roy Keane – licking his lips at the free rein to have a go at United – was arguably the least helpful, suggesting that De Gea’s confidence would get the requisite boost if he could only go out there “and nail somebody”. Wise words for someone suffering a drought in the bedroom department, less so for a young goalkeeper trying to find his feet in the Premier League.

The sense of mindlessly kicking a man when he’s down wasn’t helped later in the game when – clearly riding the wave of unwarranted viciousness – co-commentator, Jim Beglin decreed that the young Spaniard should have done better in preventing Kuyt’s winner. Perhaps getting De Gea confused with Mr. Potatohead or any other toy with detachable limbs, Beglin suggested the goalie ‘could have thrown a leg at it’. If there is a hierarchy of knee-jerk comments, this was at the lower end of the scale just a step above ‘the complete drivel’ label. The keeper could have done nothing about it. Evra was sleeping. The ball fell perfectly for Kuyt on his stronger foot. Talking a conservative estimate, he would have hit the ball at a speed of about 60mph at a distance of about 6 yards from the goalkeeper who was a couple of yards off his line. That gives De Gea an approximate reaction time of around one fifth of a second, the point where any save is almost entirely down to dumb luck rather than superhuman reactions. Not for the first time in his punditry career, Beglin’s analysis was overly simplistic and hinted towards populist pandering.

The benefit of time and increased hindsight hadn’t brought much enlightenment to the highlights show. Gordon Strachan and Neil Warnock – the latter looking like life outside management has given him a new lease of life and Brylcreem – toed the line and blurted out what they were told to with the absence of genuine balanced critique. Not dissimilar to his post-match rants, Warnock focussed on an incident that didn’t decide the game and ignored the numerous issues that did decide the game. Again the incident for the 1st goal was the centre of attention and the various other errors largely swept under the carpet – chiefly the silly fumbles that gave Liverpool hope when they were rendered largely toothless by an industrious United midfield. Considering that both Warnock and Strachan have both been at various times considered hot managerial property in the British game, it doesn’t reflect well on how some managers approach the role of the custodian. If this is how respected figures are happy to talk about young goalkeeping talent, is it any wonder that the Premier League has a string of indigenous talent between the posts that has already been knocked down repeatedly throughout their careers?

There is a point to all this grumbling and once again it’s the lack of understanding of the goalkeeper’s role. ITV are an entertainment business and their obligation is to deliver profit for their shareholders. They are free to take as short-sighted and sensationalist a view as they see fit. The pundits however are under no obligation to mindlessly take the bait. It was saddening that not one of the experts took an opposing view or declined the opportunity to slate De Gea for an offence his defenders were at least partially to blame. De Gea clearly has his problems, but he’ll eventually get over them. The problem of the media misunderstanding the goalkeeper may be something that’s harder to eradicate and have far more damaging consequences.

Newcastle Form Fires Krul Into World’s GK Elite

Tim Krul

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my World Goalkeeper Rankings and with 2011 drawing to a close, I wanted to round-off the year by revising my list to take into account some interesting developments in recent months. As ever, I’m trying to balance the current form with long-term performance. Knee-jerk reactions are keenly avoided – one mistake doesn’t mean you can automatically consign a goalkeeper to the category of ‘calamity’ and one great save doesn’t necessarily count for much if it’s sandwiched between bouts of uncertainty and silly errors. With that in mind here’s my end of year totally subjective and unscientific World Goalkeeping Rankings.

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (2) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
3. (6) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
4. (5) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
5. (3) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
6. (8) Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
7. (4) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
8. (7) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
9. (=) Tim Krul (Newcastle and Netherlands)
10. (10) Shay Given (Aston Villa and Ireland)

Iker Casillas remains on top by virtue of his consistency and ability to bounce-back immediately from any semblance of a blip. He’s been typically reliable in Real Madrid’s surge to the top of La Liga and even in their defeat to Barcelona he was virtually foot perfect and showed leadership throughout. It’s ironic that the only goalkeeping error of El Clasico came from Victor Valdes and he ended up on the side that won with relative ease. It was a rare error from a goalkeeper with the passing skills that wouldn’t look out of place in the centre of midfield. Aside from his quality distribution, his concentration remains supreme and he’s the perfect goalkeeper for a Barcelona side seeking footballing perfection. It’s been a trying few months for their compatriot, Pepe Reina. The Liverpool goalie has been very good, but he’s been making more handling errors than we’ve become accustomed to due to the high standards he’s has achieved in the past. The mistakes were punished against Tottenham and Fulham, but there have been a smattering of other occasions when he got away with it. Reina is good enough that even when he’s not performing at his best, he’s still world-class, although slightly less world-class in recent months.

Another Premier League struggler is Petr Cech. Again, Cech has been excellent for much of the last few years, but this year has been difficult. At times he has shown the brilliance he is capable of, but hasn’t maintained it for long periods. A Chelsea defence struggling to adapt to life under Andre Villas-Boas hasn’t helped his cause and injuries has also disrupted his rhythm. He was uncharacteristically off the pace when Arsenal scored five at Stamford Bridge and at other times has been less than fluent in dealing with shots he has Again, he’s quality is not in doubt, but he’s not in his best form. Cech has bounced back from slumps in the past and there’s every reason to think a resurgence is in the pipeline.

Hugo Lloris feels like he’s been on the scene for years and it’s easy to forget that this Christmas will only bring his 25th birthday. Every time I’ve seen him, he has been hugely impressive. His reflexes, athleticism and composure are a delight to behold and as he gets older, he continues to add leadership to his box of tricks. He has been one of Europe’s best keepers for the last couple of seasons and it’s only a matter of time before he looks beyond Ligue 1 and towards the leading lights of European football for his next big challenge.

Tim Krul has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season and contrary to the views of cynics, for once that’s not a position earned by default. The competition for that accolade has rarely been more fierce, but the Magpies number 1 has been so exceptional in so many Newcastle games, he is the pick of a strong crop. More than the impact of Alan Pardew, the shrewd acquisitions of Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye, Krul’s form is arguably the reason for Newcastle’s surprisingly strong start to the season. For all their attacking play and improved organisation, they would a fraction of their points haul were it not for the numerous top quality saves he has come up with high in several games so far this season. The awesome display of agility and reflexes at Old Trafford may have been his most high-profile performances of the season, but in reality he has been excellent in virtually every game. He has progressed significantly since last season. Then he looked very capable, but also anxious and too prone to bad decisions and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Now he looks more composed, mature and seems to fill his goal far more than just a few months ago. The latter point may largely be down to the psychology of perception, but Krul is understandably more confident and it’s easy to see in his on-field demeanour. He makes his debut on the list after a stunning run of form that’s impossible to ignore.

Manuel Neuer was one of the world’s best whilst still at Schalke and he has enjoyed a tremendous start to his time at Bayern Munich. He set a club record for number of minutes without conceding a goal and although that run has come to an end, he is still making significant contributions to the Bavarians’ cause. Despite being top of the table, Bayern haven’t been flawless and Neuer has been there several times to make the difference between a win and careless dropped points. Style-wise, he’s the goalkeeper most resembling Peter Schmeichel in the game at present and if he continues to progress, he should enjoy similar levels of success to the Dane.

Shay Given is another regular feature on the rankings to have switched clubs over the summer. Clearly the older Given is more susceptible to injury than ever before, but already he has shown is immense ability by pulling of some fantastic saves for Aston Villa. He’s replicated that form for Ireland (one sloppy goal conceded against Estonia aside) and remains one of the world’s best. Gigi Buffon will no doubt empathise with Given on his injury troubles. The Italian missed a large part of last season with troublesome knocks he struggled to shake off, but since returning towards the end of last term and getting a run of games under his belt, he looks like the world-class keeper of old to the point where the debate about who deserves to be Italian number 1 that recently looked valid, as been relegated to the status of being almost laughable.

David De Gea drops out of the Top 10, but I stress that it’s not an abandonment of the belief that he’s something special and he’s destined to become one of the world’s best. Despite his excellent attitude and maturity beyond his years, he has struggled to get to grips with the Old Trafford spotlight. The standards at Manchester United are so high that there is little room for error and although he impressed hugely at Atletico Madrid, it would appear he is not quite the finished article – possibly more mentally rather than technically. Joe Hart takes a minor drop for a few errors in an otherwise good season for Man City. Like the rest of the team, we didn’t see the best of him in their abridged debut participation in the Champions League and he has been subject to a couple of lapses in concentration on the domestic front. It’s been an ongoing issue with Hart and one he needs to work on. The agility, handling and authority are all there, he just needs to iron out this one major chink in his armour.

It’s difficult to omit the likes of Michel Vorm, Woijech Szczesny and Guillermo Ochoa from the list, but it has to do done. Greatness comes with consistency and although they compare favourably with some of the other names on the list, they’ve not been operating at the same level for the similar length of time. Vorm has been nothing short of brilliant for Swansea. He has pulled off some breath-taking saves and is already a leading contender for the tag of ‘buy of the season’. Ideally he’d have more command of the aerial battles that are played out in his penalty area, but he’s so strong in other areas as to compensate for this short-coming. Szczesny has been excellent for Arsenal and before Robin van Persie grabbed the season by the scruff of the neck, he was their player of the season. He made massive progress in the off-season and even when the Gunners fumbled their way through the early part of the season, he was excellent. Guillermo Ochoa is a name I predict we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the new year. His move to Ajaccio in Ligue 1 was a curious one, but not long after arriving in Corsica, it became clear he viewed it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Don’t let Ajaccio’s dreadful plight at the foot of the French top flight fool you, Ochoa has been brilliant in almost every game. He has been supremely agile with good hands and without him, they would have conceded far more than the 36 they’ve shipped in their 17 games to date. He will be going somewhere at the end of the season and it won’t be Ligue 2. Which is more than can be said for the club.

Agree, disagree or think I’ve missed out on someone?
Have your say in the comments section.

Sir Alex: 25 years of Manchester United Goalkeepers

Manchester United manager

A quarter of a century.
25 years during a time when not lasting 25 weeks is sadly common.
Sir Alex Ferguson has accumulated a stunning array of silverware in the course of his reign at Manchester United and – even if we play football for millenia to come – is destined to be remembered as one of the greats. The praise has flowed freely in recent days, but there is one area of his record consistently derided – his ability to pick a goalkeeper. Is his record as bad as is made out? Here’s the story of the goalkeepers of Ferguson’s quarter of a century at Old Trafford.

Gary Bailey was United’s incumbent first choice when Ferguson arrived in town. The English-born, South African raised Bailey infamously paid for his own ticket to fly to Manchester for his trial with the club and with the arrival of the Scot, it wasn’t long before he needed to arrange more transport, this time out of the club. Ferguson’s first major goalkeeping signing came not long after with the purchase of Jim Leighton. Fergie had worked with him during the former’s stunningly successful stint in charge of the Dons. The Scottish goalie was much admired with Brian Clough – in that familiar style of combining a genuine compliment with a mild insult towards someone or something – observing “Jim Leighton is a rare bird – a Scottish goalkeeper that can be relied on.” For much of his time at Old Trafford, that assessment proved to be correct, but a loss of form culminating with being dropped for the replay of the 1990 FA Cup Final in favour of Les Sealey, signalled a bleak future at the club. Leighton wasn’t quite a liability, but if the club wanted to surge out of mid-table obscurity, the club were going to need a more reliable option between the sticks.

That option came in the form of Peter Schmeichel who Ferguson brought to the club after the Dane’s eye-catching performances for Brondby in the UEFA Cup of 1991. The decade of high finance and hyper-inflation that griped football during the 90s makes it easy to blithely accept Fergie’s retrospective assessment that Schmeichel was the “bargain of the century”, but back in the early nineties, £530,000 wasn’t exactly the risk-free, ‘shot to nothing’ purchase modern football pricing would have you believe. It turned out to be an inspired decision however, with the Great Dane going on to become a United legend with his combination of agility, leadership and controlled aggression raising the bar for what was expected of a Premier League goalkeeper. The outfield talent may have been the catalyst for United’s early dominance of the Premier League, but Schmeichel was the crucial foundation upon which the team was built. Such was his consistency during his eight seasons at the club, back-up keepers like Kevin Pilkington and Nick Culkin rarely got a look in. The one exception was the very under-rated Raimond van der Gouw did step in for the Dane on a few crucial occasions when Schmeichel was unavailable.

His quest to replace Schmeichel remains one of the more noticeable blots on Fergie’s copybook. No goalkeeper could truly have replaced a goalkeeper of such immense stature and influence, but Ferguson’s choices went badly awry. Massimo Taibi has become a byword for a costly and comical foreign import and his reign didn’t go much beyond a calamitous display against Southampton. Fergie deemed Mark Bosnich surplus to requirements in his early years at Old Trafford, but after his successful spell with Aston Villa, the older and more experienced Bosnich had an obvious attraction to Ferguson. Behind the scenes however, the Australian was struggling with his own demons and his return to the club never got going.

Bosnich remained at the club, but it was apparent he wasn’t going to be the solution to the problem and with that in mind, Fergie splashed the cash to bring World Cup winner, Fabien Barthez to the club. £7.8 million was handed over for his services and the size-able fee meant the pressure was on from the start. His spell was littered with mistakes and isn’t remembered with huge fondness, but Barthez was a quality goalkeeper and the problems he faced summed up the immense demand for consistent excellence that comes with being Manchester United’s first choice. With a league campaign, more than likely a couple of cup runs and almost always at least ten or so European games every season, the volume of matches any goalkeeper at Old Trafford is going to face means he’ll always be in the spotlight and the capacity for flaws to be exposed becomes greater. Barthez was generally good, but his dips in concentration were too frequent for the standards required. He could have been a roaring success at 98% of the other professional clubs in the world, but for Ferguson, he would never make the grade.

Perhaps stung by the failure of going for the big fish, Fergie then went for the comparatively unknown Roy Carroll with contributions from van der Gouw followed by the signing of Tim Howard. Initially the Northern Irishman provided cover for Barthez, but he got his chance as first choice when the Frenchman returned to Marseille. Sadly, his spell at Old Trafford will be mainly remembered for his comical attempt to save Pedro Mendes’ garryowen. As amusing as it was, it was somehow worked on the match officials, so at least he contributed to the cause. Howard is often regarded as flop. He wasn’t a success, but time has showed that it wasn’t the most misguided of decisions. Howard has gone on to become a Premier League stalwart with Everton and although it didn’t work out for him with United, the scouting system clearly correctly identified the player’s talent. It was certainly the wrong place at the wrong time for Howard, although I suspect even at his best, he would still be too error-prone for Sir Alex. Ricardo and Andy Goram also came through the revolving door for goalkeepers around this time, but again, were never likely to be the silver bullet Fergie craved in a custodian. Rather than being a rod to bash him with, it speaks volumes for Ferguson’s managerial acumen that he had assembled a team capable of winning trophies despite the handicap of under-performing keepers.

The second major goalkeeping success of the Ferguson era was to come in 2005 when he finally landed Edwin van der Sar. The Dutchman’s move to Fulham had the air of a great name cashing in before retirement, but he consistently impressed at Craven Cottage and despite his age, Sir Alex took him to Old Trafford a few months before van der Sar’s 35th birthday. What followed was one of the most remarkable Indian summer’s in the history of professional football. Van der Sar lacked Schmeichel’s revolutionary impact, but what he did bring was astonishing consistency and reliability. He commanded his penalty area with authority and excelled in doing the basics right. It wasn’t always spectacular, but it’s what was needed at the time and without van der Sar, some of United’s more recent successes could easily be more scarce. Ben Foster was brought in as a potential successor to van der Sar, but not dissimilar to Barthez – he’s talented, but a little too error prone for the United job.

In conclusion, I suspect that Ferguson’s perceived lack of talent in spotting goalkeepers is largely down to his length of time in the job. Of course not every one of his goalkeeping decisions has been a hit, but the sheer volume he has had to bring in during his time make the ratio look skewed in favour of misses rather than hits. If any other manager was at a top club for the same length of time, they would no doubt have a similarly patchy record. Plus one extenuating circumstance is the type of club he has made Manchester United. His success has meant the demand for complete excellence at the club is a constant and the goalkeepers who could achieve those standards have been exceedingly few of the course of the 25 years. Maybe he should have broke the bank for Buffon, Casillas or – by his own admission – gone for Edwin van der Sar sooner, but there simply haven’t been enough top quality goalkeepers around who could be expected to meet the immense demands that come with the clubs’ no. 1 role. Most of the time, they haven’t been available for any amount of money, so Fergie has had to go for riskier, less surefire options and that hasn’t always ended well.

Despite the fairly knee-jerk reactions of certain pundits and journalists, it’s too early to pass judgement on Fergie’s most recent dip into the goalkeeper market. David de Gea hasn’t had an ideal start to his time at United, but there are signs of improvement and he’s far from a write off. Anders Lindegaard is getting his chances too and he could yet be another Dane to have a big impact between the posts at Old Trafford. De Gea is the main hope however and much like Ferguson in his early days at Old Trafford, sticking with him through a rocky patch could be a decision to reap massive rewards.

Premier League: Arsenal goalkeeper leads an impressive generation

Szczesny

Potential is always the great imponderable.
It’s easy to identify, difficult to quantify and never guaranteed to be fulfilled.
It’s capable of vanishing in front of your eyes quicker than clubs that actually want to sign Carlos Tevez. If anything, it’s even harder to examine when looking at goalkeepers who may have to wait months and years for their chance in the 1st team, but one of the main storylines of the Premier League season has been the number of young goalkeepers making huge strides towards delivering on their undoubted natural ability. Here’s a look at some of the youthful generation impressing in the early stages of the campaign.

The irony of Arsenal finally unearthing a world-class goalie only for the rest of the team to suffer high-profile difficulties is something that’s been pointed out by various people – some with more joy than others. Since being promoted to the starting role in the Arsenal team, Wojciech Szczesny has performed to a level that suggests he’s a player of real quality. He has earned some flack for a couple of errors, but thankfully he has shown the mental strength to bounce back and more than that, improve markedly. Over the summer, he seems to have not only matured, but improved his already impressive agility, handling and command of his penalty area. His team-mates haven’t helped much by way of keeping his sheets clean, but taken in isolation, he has been in excellent form and looks to be the long-term solution to the Gunners’ goalkeeping issues. There will be blips in the future, but he’s displayed the mentality to suggest he’ll be able to great through any future issues.

Almost a carbon copy of the Pole is Tim Krul of Newcastle United. I questioned Alan Pardew’s apparent willingness to let Fraser Forster leave for Celtic, but at the moment the decision to entrust the Dutchman as first choice looks inspired. He has showcased his fantastic reflexes and agility numerous times this season, but the most encouraging aspect of his performances is his ever improving calmness. Krul had a tendency to litter his performances with ill-advised decision-making that undermined his skill, but during the off-season – whether consciously or otherwise – he seems to have developed a better sense of when to take command and when to leave it to his defenders. He has been excellent and without him we may again be talking about another Newcastle side playing nice football, but with little to show for it apart from an array of frozen beer-bellies on the terraces of St. James’ Park.

David De Gea is an obvious choice. The knives were out for the young Spaniard after a shaky start to his Man United career, but he has shown great resilience under pressure to recover. At one point the temptation of going with the in-form Anders Lindegaard must have been hard to resist for Sir Alex, but De Gea’s performance at Anfield was one that highlighted the attributes that eventually persuaded Fergie to part with a substantial sum of money for his services. The excellent saves garnered many of the non-racism row headlines, but the best part was seeing the authority with week he commanded his penalty area and took charge when required. That’s an important step in his development at Old Trafford and talk of ‘turning a corner’ may still be pre-mature, but it’s certainly not without justification.

John Ruddy of Norwich is another goalkeeper I’m more than happy to eat a large slice of humble pie over. In my pre-season preview of the goalkeepers of each Premier League club I expressed doubts about his level of experience and his reliability, but aside from the dismissal at Stamford Bridge, he has looked every bit the Premier League standard goalkeeper. Mistakes blighted him last season, but the early evidence is he’s now a more focussed player and the Canaries are reaping the benefits. Wayne Hennessy is also worthy of a mention, but in his case his improvement has been over the last couple of seasons rather than over the summer and on a similar theme, Asmir Begovic has continued his longer term renaissance for Stoke.

There’s certain to be be mistakes and bumps in the road to the top for all of the Premier League’s young goalkeepers, but the indications are there’s a generation of talent emerging in the top flight at present.

Premier League and La Liga GKs dominate latest Goalkeeper World Rankings

Guillermo Ochoa

It may have been a relatively barren summer with little by way of regular football fare, but it’s back and it’s been no sleepy start the season. It’s especially the case when it comes to the goalkeepers with a multitude of storylines to witness unfolding with fascination.

David De Gea dominated much of the goalkeeping related headlines for July and August. First there was the anticipation if seeing him line out for Manchester United in their pre-season programme. Then came the excitement of seeing him try the role in something more akin to the heat of battle with the Community Shield and the first league games as United the bid for league number 20. Sadly, it hasn’t been the start De Gea dreamed of, but although his fee comes with the expectation of near perfection, his age means a certain amount of slip-ups are to be expected. The frequency and nature of the mistakes have been surprising, but it’s too early to push the panic button. The media have once again displayed their remarkable ignorance of the goalkeeping position by essentially writing him off as a Fergie flop with immediate effect, but a less sensationalist analysis is required to thoroughly diagnose why the young Spaniard looks so far removed from the dominant nigh-on wall who impressed so for Atletico and the underage Spanish sides in recent seasons. It’s speculation on my part, but I believe his errors stem from over-thinking as a result of the realisation of the pressure at United. Having watched him closely for the guts of 2 years, I’m utterly convinced he has the ability to be a huge success at Old Trafford and he will overcome his difficulties in time. That said, at the moment his status in the Top 10 is under threat and his progress will be one of the more interesting subplots to the season.

A goalkeeper more than capable of speaking about putting short-term disappointment behind him is Shay Given and the early stages of Aston Villa career suggest his sustained period of inactivity at Manchester City hasn’t blunted his ability. Even throughout his spell of bench-warming, he was highly regarded by me and although being continually overlooked by Roberto Mancini meant he had to be eased out of the rankings, I have little difficulty in reinstating him into the Top 10. It’s a little harsh on Steve Mandanda who has really come along at Marseille, but in short – do I think Given has proven himself to be a better goalkeeper than the Frenchman? Personally I think he’s better than players higher up on the list, but time will tell if he can recapture the startling consistency that has made him one of Europe’s top goalkeepers for much of the last decade and return to his lofty position of the past.

At the top of the rankings, what we’ve seen from Iker Casillas suggests he will continue performing to the high standards now almost taken for granted. Two Super Copa games and 5 goals conceded isn’t the most compelling of stats to back up that claim, but his performances in keeping brilliant Barcelona at bay was far better than the scoreline suggested. Serie A hasn’t yet resumed so we haven’t seen Gigi Buffon, but will surely remain one of the world’s finest keepers. Petr Cech only managed one game before suffering an injury likely to keep him out for a month. That game wasn’t his most convincing and due to Pepe Reina’s good start to the season for Liverpool, the Premier League pair swap places. Hugo Lloris has been playing well for Lyon, but Manuel Neuer’s career at Bayern Munich hasn’t got off to the perfect start, either on or off the pitch. We’re more concerned about what happens on the pitch and for those reasons, he takes a slight dip in the rankings.

The most impressive performance from a goalkeeper this month came from a goalkeeper yet to break into the top 10. Guillermo Ochoa has long since been spoken about as the hottest goalkeeping property outside of Europe, so it was a surprise to many when he signed for newly promoted Corsican outfit, Ajaccio in Ligue 1. He has since explained that the move is in part to rehabilitate his reputation after allegations of doping and also as a stepping stone to one of Europe’s bigger name clubs. He may not stay with the islanders for long, but while he’s there the locals will be treated to some show. Already he has put in a couple of performances of remarkable agility and athleticism. He doesn’t yet break into the Top 10 on account if the fact I haven’t seen enough of him to be sure of his consistency, but more of the same and he’ll be there and most likely in a lofty position. He’ll have to make do with Goalkeeper of the Month honours for August.

Also in good form and narrowly missing out is Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal have had a troubled start to the season, but one major ray of sunshine has been the form of the young Pole. Over the summer, Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to make a move for a high-profile keeper was questioned, but it was always apparent that Szczesny would be his first choice and he looks to have repaid that faith by developing significantly during the close season. Confidence has never been an issue for the youngster, but his performances so far indicate he now is a more assured performer. The stunning penalty save from Antonio Di Natale in Arsenal’s Champions League was the cherry on top of the cake, but more impressive is the overall improvement in his game.

Another goalkeeper bubbling outside the Top 10 are Fernando Muslera who was simply brilliant at the Copa America. He’s another supremely talented goalkeeper who is yet to convince me of his consistency despite obvious ability. For a long time I had him pegged as something of a calamity keeper, but I’m more than willing to admit that may be an inaccurate reflection. I will follow his progress at Galatasaray keenly. Samir Handanovic of Udinese also impressed immensely in the Champions League tie with Arsenal and after getting a lot of good reports about him last season, he’ll be one to watch when the Serie A season finally gets underway.

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (2) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
3. (4) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
4. (3) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
5. (5) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
6. (6) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
7. (9) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
8. (8) Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
9. (7) David de Gea (Manchester United)
10. (=) Shay Given (Aston Villa and Ireland)