Euro 2012 – a look at the array of quality goalkeepers in Group C

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It may not be as utterly ruthless as the competition’s group of death, but Group C is another tricky one, with several permutations that would surprise, but not necessarily shock. It’s also similar in terms being packed with an abundance of goalkeeping talent. Here’s the run through:

Croatia
Whilst they’re littered with famous names further up the pitch, Croatia lack a goalkeeper of international renown.

There is no doubt however about Slaven Bilic’s first choice however and that honour goes to Stipe Pletikosa (33). The vastly experienced custodian will most likely reach the 100 cap mark in the next 12 months and he has been the pick since the 2006 World Cup. His reflexes, agility and speed are all strong points. Early on in his career, he was considered vulnerable under the high ball. He has improved this area of his game, but doesn’t command the aerial battles with the confidence you’d expect of a 6′ 4″ keeper.

Another issue could be his tendency to parry rather than catch. It’s not a fatal flaw – especially since he has the happy knack of directing his saves away from danger – but you’d rather a keeper who catches the ball and takes command when the option is available. His club career has largely been one of almost breaking into Europe’s elite, but falling short. He had a loan spell at Tottenham but didn’t feature in the league. He was close to a move to Celtic, but it fell through and now he’s playing for Rostov in the Russian Premier League.

All of Croatia will be praying for Pletikosa’s good health, but that’s more down to the inexperience behind him than a lack of ability. Danijel Subašić is the second choice and he’s a talented young goalkeeper. His strong suits are agility, reflexes and bravery in one on one situations. Other than minimal international experience, there’s little else that would overly concern you. Plus he takes a mean free kick, going very Rogerio Ceni for Monaco earlier this season. He won’t get dibs on one for the international team, but it’s nice trick to have in your locker.

Ivan Kelava is the ‘one for the future’ of the three. The 24-year-old has yet to make his senior international debut and despite being very talented and capable, many will be hoping he’s not called into duty over the next couple of weeks.

Ireland

Shay Given’s injury problems has dominated Ireland’s build-up to Euro 2012. At 36, age does seem to be catching up with him a bit, but equally I think these problems can be traced back to that season he spent on the bench behind Joe Hart. Later on in a career, a goalkeeper’s body gets used to taking a certain amongst of abuse. When that stops for a while, it’s hard to restart it and I think that explains the variety and frequency of Shay’s niggles. He’s still a quality keeper however and his lack of aerial presence is compensated for by the fact his defenders know they have to deal with vast majority of the crosses themselves. Some see it as a weakness, but having played with Richard Dunne for so long, I think it’s a strength and there have been relatively few mix-ups down through the years.

Keiren Westwood is the man who will step in should Given’s injuries flare up at the tournament. He’s agile and got great reflexes, they only issue is a lack of experience at the highest level. He’s slowly but surely building that up at Sunderland.

David Forde of Millwall is the third choice option. He’s been a regular in Trapattoni squads for the last twelve months and if called upon, shouldn’t have too many problems. He has been known to make the odd poor decision during this club career, but he’s far from a calamity keeper and will no doubt add to his haul of two caps in the future.

Italy
With the Italy camp in apparent crisis, one constant is the rock-solid presence of Gianluigi Buffon. He struggled with injury in the aftermath of the 2010 World Cup, but got a full season under his belt and was immense as Juventus claimed their first league title since 2003. You know what you’re going to get with Gigi. He offers leadership, calmness, agility and authority. There may be an occasional mistake, but he bounces back strongly every time and he truly is one of the all time greats of goalkeeping. With 114 caps to his name, the captain is a huge part of the team and if they’re to defy the gloomy predictions with an extended run in the tournament, he’ll need to be at his best.

Morgan De Sanctis is second in command, but has limited experience of international football. He has been in Buffon’s shadow for much of his career and at the age of 35 has just 5 caps to his name. He’s a good keeper however and if called upon will perform well. He has the tendency to do something ill-advised on occasion, but by and large he’s dependable and does the basics with authority.

Salvatore Sirigu is the eventual successor to Buffon. The 25 year old joined Paris Saint Germain last summer and became a firm favourite with the club’s vocal support. His ability and reactions are top quality and his air of calm authority does have a similarity to the great Buffon. He’s unlikely to see any game time at Euro 2012, but his time will come at future tournaments.

Spain

For the third tournament in a row, Spain go into it with the strongest goalkeeping division – possibly of all time. Rarely has there been such and abundance of riches to choose from. In Casillas, Reina and Valdes they have three goalkeepers who would walk into most international teams, but beyond that there are another two or three high quality keepers who are knocking on the door to get into the squad; David de Gea and Diego Lopez being the two most obvious candidates.

There’s not much more hyperbole you can heap on Iker Casillas. He is the best in the world. I’ve said it before, he’s not perfect, but he rarely makes mistakes and when he does, he almost instantly makes amends. His command and control of his penalty is a hugely under-rated weapon for Spain. He cleans up with such authority, it often slips by unnoticed, but in doing so, he stamps out potential danger with the minimum of fuss.

Pepe Reina wasn’t at his best for large parts of the season at Liverpool. What was happening in front of him didn’t help. Erratic defending and Jekyll and Hyde performances elsewhere on the team made life very difficult, but Reina contributed superbly. If called upon, Spain should have no fears. He very presence in the squad ensures Casillas can’t take anything for granted and that’s no doubt partially why San Iker has maintained such high standards for the national team.

Victor Valdes is a curious player. At times it looks like his ball skills wouldn’t look out of place in the Barcelona midfield, but then he does something poorly judged in the course of his goalkeeping duties to make you question him. He’s the perfect goalkeeper for the Barcelona system, operating as auxiliary sweeper and passing the ball around with accuracy. The national team role is different and that’s why he’s at the bottom of the pecking order. When it comes to the bread and butter stuff of goalkeeping, Valdes isn’t bad, just not as good as the two ahead of him. Still though, he’s not a bad third choice goalie to have in any squad.

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Manuel Neuer is the world’s best

Manuel Neuer

There’s many different ways of deciding who is the best goalkeeper in the world. Some value current form over long term reliability, whilst others are prepared to keep the faith for much longer. I try to do both and with that in mind here’s my Goalkeeper World Rankings for April.

1. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
It’s a simple pick right now. He’s been excellent since arriving in Bayern Munich and his performance on Wednesday night against Real Madrid highlighted his development. He made some excellent penalty saves, but it was his leadership and authority that was most encouraging for me. His ability has always been obvious, but now he’s got the experience to know when to take command of situations and when to take a step back, he’s reaching his potential.

2. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
I’m a big believer in Iker Casillas. He was a little bit shaky by his high standards on Wednesday night in the Champions League semi-final, but he still saved a penalty in the shoot-out and made some important interventions in open play. As ever, when he makes a mistake or doesn’t get something quite right, he bounces right back up and it rarely costs his team a goal.

3. Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
Buffon has been one of my favourites for a long time and given how Juventus are doing in this season’s Serie A, he has to be included. They’ve the league’s best defensive record, conceding just 18 goals in 35 games. It’s not all down to Gigi, but he’s certainly played his part. After injury trouble in the last couple of years, it’s great to see the agility is still there and the reflexes, calmness and leadership make him one of the world’s best.

4. Joe Hart (Manchester City and England)
It’s been a great year for goalkeepers in the Premier League, but I still rate Hart as the best all-rounder. He was voted in as the goalkeeper in the PFA Premier League Team of the Season and I wouldn’t argue with that. He’s incredibly mature and he’s improved his decision-making considerably over the last twelve months or so.

5. Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
It’s been another difficult season for Lyon, but Lloris comes out of it with big credit. Agile, ultra-reliable and still young, I’m a big fan and there’s more to come. Every time summer rolls around, the speculation liking him with a move somewhere seems as common as the smell of barbecues. Spurs are reportedly looking at him as a replacement for Brad Friedel and he’d be a great addition to the Premier League. Wherever he heads, I’m sure he’s destined to be an even bigger star than he is now.

After the couple of weeks Chelsea have had, it’s impossible not to give Petr Cech a mention. He had to be immense if Chelsea were to have any chance of ousting Barcelona and he delivered big time. He’s definitely on the fringes of my list.

In his first full season as Arsenal’s #1 Wojciech Szczęsny has proven himself as reliable, unflappable and truly world-class. Second in the PL behind Hart in my opinion, it’ll be great to see how those two develop over the coming years.

It was also hard to leave out Michel Vorm. He’s had a fantastic season for Swansea although he won’t be happy with conceding four against Wolves over the weekend. He’s got top class reflexes and he’s amazingly agile. He’s definitely one of the best in the Premier League this season.

Ali Al Habsi has had a fantastic season for Wigan too. He made one absolutely world class save against Arsenal and those contributions are crucial for a team like Wigan. If that goes in, Arsenal probably come back and win the game and all of sudden there’s no amazing run of results and they’re going down. He’s been doing things like that all season and he deserves an honourable mention.

I’ve also been impressed by Kiko Casilla for Espanyol. He’s made a few mistakes lately and he get dropped, which set him back. He’s still some way from being in my top five, but he looks like he’s heading in the right direction and I look forward to seeing how he develops next season.

Iker Casillas Sending Off And Antonio Adan

Real Madrid have often been accused of being on the right end of some favourable decisions in the race for La Liga down through the decades. A lot of the time those accusations tended to emanate from the Catalan region, but there’s no doubt that during much of their history, they have been rewarded for being distinctly more Spanish than their biggest rivals. They had a special place in the affections of General Franco and were afforded decisions often for no reason other than it would upset los Cules.

Such favouritism has long since disappeared as witnessed by the fact they were the victims of a harsh – possibly not incorrect – decision on Sunday against Espanyol. More specifically, it was Iker Casillas who was dismissed less than 2 minutes into the game. It was harsh, but after several replays, it looks like there was contact and although Jose Callejon could possibly have stayed on his feet, such behaviour is now the exception rather than the rule in the modern era.

He may have been a little hard done by, but the decision to sprint out of his penalty area wasn’t the best of his career and the Real captain left himself in a very vulnerable position. In the short-term, Real recovered to record a win in a potentially tricky away tie, but there may be a longer lasting headache. He’ll now serve a suspension and thanks to other events over the weekend, any prolonged absence could have a bearing on the Special One’s admittedly slim chances of landing the La Liga title in his first season at the Bernabau.

It assumes significant mainly because although the Barcelona players look like more than mere mortals, they’re still not quite Gods and the hard work of Sporting Gijon did more than most to halt the breath-taking momentum. Having racked up an awesome sequence of wins, they could only manage a draw at Gijon. In the end, the two points dropped may mean nothing more than a smaller margin of victory, but it’s a timely reminder that this could yet turn into a title race. With another league Superclassico to come before the season ends, there is a chance to close the gap, but it’s likely to require near perfection from Real.

With Jerzy Dudek still injured presumed basically retired, Real are now likely to turn the man who played the remaining 88 minutes on Sunday – Antonio Adan. They are arguably the biggest glove to fill in the world – especially so when you’re 23. I’ve said countless times that what stands out about Casillas is not just superb athleticism, but a remarkable ability to concentrate and make saves at crucial times – tipping a game from ‘the the balance’ towards Real’s grip. Plus there’s the more intangible benefit of defenders knowing they have Iker Casillas behind them to bail them out should things not go exactly to plan.

Emulating Casillas won’t be an option in the short-term, but Adan is more than capable of doing a job. Although largely a reserve for much of his time at the club, the system of allowing La Liga reserve teams to compete in lower divisions has meant he has been able to amass decent amount of first team experience – albeit away from the pressure of top flight football. Having watched him on the few occasions when he has got a first team run out, the has the tools to do well. His hands look good and he has no problem throwing himself at the feet of attackers.

This relative unknown could yet be the biggest factor in deciding whether or not we see a title race in Spain.

Goalkeeper World Rankings

Goalkeeper World Rankings
Jan. 27th 2011

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. (6) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
7. (8) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
8. (9) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
9. (10) David de Gea (Atletico Madrid)
10. (-) Manuel Neuer (Schalke and Germany)

Casillas
“31st in the world my ass.”

These rankings are my opinion.
Unabashed, possibly biased and undoubtedly debatable opinion.
There’s not much in the way of statistics, data analysis or science.
It’s nothing more than my gut feeling after watching mountains of football and paying nerd-like attention to the goalkeepers. I fully acknowledge they’re flawed, open to discussion and quite possibly wrong.

They’re still not the worst goalkeeper rankings I’ve seen. In my own slightly biased opinion.
That honour goes to Castrol World Rankings. They were brought to my attention this week and after deciding the overall rankings weren’t completely laughable i.e. Lucas Leiva isn’t at the top with Emile Heskey pushing him close, I checked out how they rated the world’s goalkeepers. ‘Bizarrely’ is the short answer.

Now everyone is entitled to an opinion, but if it’s so wrong it’s borderline gibberish just don’t bother. Daniel Aranzubia is a good pro, but rarely in his career has he looked like one of the world’s elite. Maybe being exposed to those fumes all day long is affecting the people at Castrol. Likewise Mariano Andjuar (3rd best in the world apparently) has impressed me on occasion, but his lack of consistency over a long period of time rules him out as one of the world’s best. Here’s certainly one of the top keepers in Serie A but gone are the days when that honour automatically qualifies you as one of the word’s best. With Curci, Storari and Sorrentino to also feature towards the top of the list all of a sudden you’ve got 5 Serie A goalies in the top 11, a figure which is wrong by in the region of 4 to 5. Other major queries I’d have would be:

Julio Cesar at the top is just wrong. Ceasr is an excellent goalkeeper, but at no point in the last year, month or even week has he been better than the likes of Iker Casillas, Petr Cech, Edwin van der Sar etc.
Craig Gordon at 7 – he’s playing very well, but it’s only been for a few months. Needs to have done it for a longer period of time to be that high on my list.
Cesar Sanchez at 12 – I’m not even convinced he’s the best goalkeeper at Valencia.
Marcus Hanneham at 17 – this makes him better than Petr Cech, Joe Hart and Heurelho Gomes. Again, he’s probably not even the best keeper at Wolves.
Petr Cech the 20th best goalkeeper on the planet? Which planet? He’s one of the top two on earth.
Finally – Iker Casillas at 31 in the list of keepers and 145th best player in the world overall?? Ok, now you’re just coming out with utter garbage to get attention – it’s the Sepp Blatter approach.

I didn’t actually get around to compiling my best goalkeeper of the year list last month, but regular readers will know how highly I rate Iker Casillas. It probably sounds a bit like man-crush. He should have been a genuine contender for the Ballon d’Or rather than the obligatry afterthought he appeared to be. He has carried his World Cup excellence back to Real Madrid and his crucial saves have facilitated a smooth transition to the Mourinho era at the Bernabau. One negative was the amount of picking the ball out of the net he had to do against Barcelona, but it was Barcelona at their rampant finest and concrete wall would have struggled to keep them at bay for 90 minutes. He was the best goalkeeper in December and of the Ministry’s Goalkeeper of 2010.

The rehabilitation of Peter Cech is complete. Not only has he returned to the heights of earlier in his career, but he has exceeded them. He is wiser with experience and combined with his supreme reflexes, agility and bravery he is awesome. With Chelsea struggling, there’s not much positive comment about any members of the team, but Cech has been simply outstanding. He’s a joy to watch and regardless of what happens with the Blues season, if he maintains his current levels he deserves to be considered for all end of season awards, not just the ones for goalkeepers. Reina maintains the good form that has kept Liverpool out of some serious trouble whilst Van der Sar still looks perfectly comfortable at the highest level of the game. The Dutchman’s retirement will be a huge loss to United and the fact that goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele was only half-jokingly asked by a BBC interviewer if he could convince Van der Sar to change his mind and stay for another year reflects how well he’s still playing having reached the big 40.

After a long spell out injured and an unseemly argument with the Juventus manager who suggested his reinstatement to the first team wasn’t a mere formality, Gigi Buffon has returned to action. Eyebrows were raised when he maintained his heady place in the rankings, but it’s unfair to demote someone due to injury. Sitting on the bench because you’re getting paid truckloads of money is a different matter …

That brings me on to Shay Given. I’ve been a huge fan of Given for many years, but the lack of activity in the transfer window does not paint him in the most ambitious of lights. Of course I understand that a football career is short and players need to feather their nests for a long period of earning a mere fraction of their professional days, but would the Irishman really be on the receiving end of a self-inflicted financial knee-capping if he moved to another Premier League club or major European league? Having such talent yet watching on from the bench isn’t right and Man City’s number two needs to play to prove he’s still one of the world’s best. Sporadic Europa League and international games are a start, but he should have bigger ambitions than that. Given isn’t suddenly a bad goalkeeper, we just haven’t seen enough of him. Joe Hart has been making mistakes of late and Roberto Mancini should give him a quick taste of the bench. It may not be a long term arrangement. The type of errors seem to come from complacency and a reminder that he’s not undroppable, wouldn’t be a bad idea. Hart is still a top quality keeper, but maybe we shouldn’t tell him quite so often.

Given has been dropped from the top 10 for Manuel Neuer. Ironically he hasn’t been playing a great deal lately either, but that’s got more to do with the Bundesliga winter break than anything else. His form has been crucial in Schalke’s recent surge from relegation candidates to European contenders.

Do you think any other goalkeepers deserve to be included? Leave your suggestions, abuse or praise in the comments section.

Best Goalkeeper Performance 2010

A fumble, a drop, a public embarrassment.
As ever, it’s the howlers and calamities that the majority of the attention from the mainstream media when it comes to goalkeepers, but 2010 saw no shortage of truly excellent performances.

Considering the importance of the match and the quality of his saves, what Iker Casillas did in the World Cup Final was astonishing. The compressed historical version will see it as a deserved triumph for free-flowing Spanish football over the wrecking ball approach of the Dutch, but in truth the Netherlands produced some silky skills of their own and could very easily have brought the stereotype of Spanish self-doubt back if they had taken the lead. It wasn’t the busiest or even most spectacular night of Casillas’ career, but the Spanish captain was excellent in denying Arjen Robben at crucial moments in the game. His concentration was supreme and when his time came, he was there time and time again with confident and assertive goalkeeping. His saves in one on one situations were the most memorable, but the way in which he fielded so many high balls with the minimum of fuss shouldn’t be forgotten. He took the pressure off his defenders and laid the foundations for a famous victory. Considering the size of the occasion and the poor start he made to the tournament, it was an excellent all round performance. Not quite performance of the year mind.

Julio Cesar ended the year known as the goalkeeper who cost Brazil their place at the tournament, but that once off blip can’t take away from an excellent first part of the year when he starred in Inter Mlian’s treble. His reactions and agility were a huge assistance to the Champions League campaign in general and the semi-final tie with Barcelona in particular. Over the two legs he made some outstanding saves and with the second leg taking place at the Nou Camp, his team needed whatever advantage they could muster. Much like Casillas on the night in South Africa, it may not have been the sheer volume of saves that impressed, so much as the command and composure he exerted in his area. Without Cesar, it could have been a different story and the hunt for their third European Cup could have run well beyond 45 years.

There were no World Cups or European trophies up for grabs in the match which saw the Ministry Of Glove’s Performance of 2010, but it did end up in silverware. Whilst being amongst Europe’s elite players means Casillas and Cesar are playing for bigger stakes, for a journeyman pro pressure comes in different ways. The FAI Cup Final rarely reaches an audience of hundreds of thousands, let alone hundreds of millions, but for Ciaran Kelly it was a massive game and he delivered for his team in real style. The game was played at the fabulous Aviva Stadium in front of a raucous crowd comprising Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers fans. The game finished 0-0 after 120 minutes of football, but don’t allow the scoreline to paint a dreary mental image of the game. It was thrilling from start to finish and Kelly played no small part in helping Sligo Rovers keep pace with their more celebrated opponents in normal and extra time, but it was when the game reached the dramatic crescendo of a penalty shoot-out that Kelly excelled. He saved an incredible 4 of the Shamrock Rovers penalties, but even more impressive was the quality of the saves. He combined agility with intelligence and guts to put his team in with a great chance of winning – a chance they firmly grasped. Watch it all below.

Kelly’s first save was ultimately straightforward, but his movement along the goal-line plants the seed of doubt in the penalty-takers’ mind. The second save is genuinely top class. He reads the penalty-taker and flings himself acrobatically across the goal to make the save. A simple analysis would suggest he guessed right and made a full stretch save, but it’s the way in which he watches the taker – almost hunting him down – that gives you the sense he is in control. For me, the third save is the pick of the high class bunch. Kelly looks like he’s going to his left, but adjusts magnificently to stay upright and get a strong hand to the shot – it was superb anticipation from Kelly and required bravery because he ran the risk of looking very foolish indeed in front of a huge psyched up crowd. At this stage, Kelly making a fourth save looks like a mere formality, but again he adjusts brilliantly to get to one going down the middle. He has gone to his left, but the moment he realises where the shot is heading, slows down his dive and gets his legs to up and in the way. It was truly superb and it says so much about Kelly’s performance that the only criticism you could level his way is the Shearer-esque ‘too cool to celebrate wildly’ run he goes on after making the winning save. It was a great performance and the fact that it wasn’t at the highest level doesn’t take away from it one bit. Excellent goalkeeping isn’t dependent on the prize being competed for and Kelly deserves the accolade.

Honourable mentions
Joe Hart had numerous excellent performances both for Birmingham and upon his return to Man City. Petr Cech was excellent as Chelsea powered to the top of the table and still is despite the dramatic downturn in form. David de Gea has emerged as a top quality young goalkeeper and he had some outstanding games in La Liga throughout 2010. It wasn’t a good year for Liverpool, but the form of Pepe Reina saved it from being a whole lot worse. The Spaniard wasn’t always at the top of his game, but his habit of making crucial saves saved the Reds a hatful of points. He’s not without his own flaws, but Mark Schwarzer also deserves a lot of credit for his role in Fulham’s run to the final of the Europa League. It was a late entry for consideration, but Manuel Neuer’s performance for Schalke against Bayern Munich was remarkable and showed exactly why their such interest in signing him.

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Disclaimer bit
Apologies for any major omissions here. As much as I try, it’s just not feasible to take in everything on offer in the lower British leagues, around Europe and across the globe. My choices are based on what I’ve watched or researched following glowing reports about the goalkeepers involved. Week in, week out there are goalkeeping performances that no doubt fully deserve to be mentioned. Although I may make the same mistakes in 2011 and miss out on some performances, I thoroughly enjoying watching and appreciate all the efforts of the goalkeepers out there.

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.

Snazzy Casillas Glovework

Iker Casillas had a quiet night when Real Madrid traveled to Sporting Gijon. It was his opposite number Juan Pablo who was busier, having a great night until he spilled a Benzema header to gift Real the only goal of the game. In typical fashion, Casillas did make a crucial intervention, making a good save towards the end of the game to guarantee another 3 points for the Special One. The highlight of the night however was his excellent catch when someone in the crowd hurls something at him. He considers doing the Jamie Carragher thing of throwing it back into the crowd but thinks better of it. Good choice.