Joe Hart is crucial for Manchester City’s title defence

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Manchester City

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

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

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

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

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

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Euro 2012 – Hart and Lloris are the GK stars of Group D

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Group D is a group full of established and emerging goalkeeping talent. Here’s a look at the custodians involved in a very unpredictable group.

England

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Joe Hart is he number one and after a strong season and much improvement from the Manchester City keeper, it’s a straightforward pick. Over the last twelve months, he has gained the experience and judgement to compliment his obvious agility and reflexes. He’s now a more commanding figure in aerial battles and his once suspect concentration now looks pretty flawless. He’s the number one and without him England are substantially weaker.

If for any reason misfortune strikes, Robert Green will step in. He will forever be remembered for his howler against the USA at World Cup 2010, but he has bounced back well since that disappointment and subsequent tabloid character assassination. His reactions are top class, but his handling can be an issue. That said, if he needs to step in, he has the experience and ability to do it with minimum of fuss.

The selection of Jack Butland on the stand-by list was Roy Hodgson’s bolt from the blue. When John Ruddy broke a finger and had to withdraw from the squad, the untested 19 year old ws the focus of much attention. Owned by Birmingham, but on loan at League 2 Cheltenham for the last few months, it was a bold move by Hodgson. It had hints of Theo Walcott being brought along to World Cup 2006 ain’t to give him the experience of an international tournament. That’s fine, but if he is called into action, it could be a decision England may rue.

France

Hugo Lloris has quietly gone about becoming one of the best goalkeepers in the world over the last few seasons. Lyon have fallen off their Ligue 1 perch, but Lloris has continued to impress with his consistency and ability. Laurent Blanc handed him the captaincy and that speaks volumes about the 25 year old’s maturity and importance to the them. His good form was rubber stamped when he was this season voted Ligue 1’s Goalkeeper of the Year for a third time.

In reserve, France have the considerable talents of Steve Mandanda. The Marseille captain’s agility and reactions have always been evident, but his handling often let him down. In the last couple of seasons however, this has improved markedly and he now looks a far more reliable keeper. He’s get into several of the sides at Euro 2012 as a first choice, but will find it hard to leapfrog Lloris in the years ahead.

The third choice is Cedric Carrasso of Bordeaux. He’s the oldest of the three, but has only one cap to his name. That’s largely down to bad timing as his peak years have coincided with the rise of Lloris and Mandanda. He’s hugely agile and capable and won’t look out of his depth in the unlikely event he’s called into action.

Sweden
Despite not making the grade at Juventus or Manchester City, Andreas Isaksson has forged a good career for himself at PSV and become Sweden’s undisputed number 1. The 30 year old is closing in on his century of caps for the national side. At 6′ 6″, his height doesn’t compromise his agility. He’s an excellent shot-stopper and even though he’s not textbook perfect, he has the knack of getting something in the way of the ball. He may parry a little too often, but he’s a reliable first choice. For a keeper of his height however, his command of the aerial battle is below standard. He needs to take charge of what can be an uncertain Swedish defence.

Johan Wiland is the most senior keeper in terms of age, but he’s the junior in terms of international caps. The Copenhagen keeper has eight to his name and at 31, may find himself behind Isaksson for most of his career. Like Isaksson, he’s a little unorthodox, but he gets the job done. His reflexes are top class and he’s brave in one on one situations.

Par Hansson is the youngest of the three goalkeepers and the one least likely to see game time. At 25, he’s very highly rated in his homeland and he will get his chance in future. His reactions are great and he’s very quick – he really is an exciting prospect for the future. One thing he may need to work on is his aerial presence. He stays on his line most of the time and to step up to the next level, will need to become more assertive.

Ukraine
The co-host’s preparation has been hindered by a severe dwindling of their goalkeeping options. The vastly experienced Oleksandr Shovkovskiy has been the first choice for the better part of the last two decades, but he has been ruled out after having to have shoulder surgery. The usual back-up of Maksim Dikan has been ruled out due to serious injuries picked up in a league game for Spartak Moscow earlier this season and another option, Oleksandr Rybka is serving a ban for testing positive for a banned diuretics whilst playing for Shakhtar Donetsk.

It leaves Andriy Pyatov as the man likely to start their campaign against Sweden. He has established himself as a firm favourite at Shakhtar Donetsk, particularly impressing in their Europa League run of 2009. Athletic and sharp, he won’t stand out as a weakness, but clearly he’s not the man most Ukrainians would want in goal.

If something does happen to Pyatov, then there’s problems for Ukraine. Mainly because between them, his two back ups have three caps. Two of them belong to Oleksandr Horyainov of Metalist Kharkiv. The 36 year old has plenty of experience at club level and he’s more than capable of filling in, but an ideal scenario would see him spend the tournament bench-warming.

Maksym Koval has just one cap to his name, but at the age of 19, that’s less of a concern. He has been ear-marked as a future star for some time now and will no doubt form a large part of Ukraine’s footballing future. He has made some gaffes in his short career, but it’s to be expected and his agility ad reflexes stand out as being exceptional. It would be a big ask to step into such a high pressure environment at such a young age, but the experience will stand him in good stead for the years to come.


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International football presents a different challenge for an England GK

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Roy Hodgson’s England goalkeeping selections for the summer have provoked much debate. No-one can quibble with Joe Hart but there was far less consensus when it game to bringing Rob Green and John Ruddy (and now Jack Butland) to Euro 2012. Many people lament the continued absences of Ben Foster and Paul Robinson, whilst others made a case for Scott Carson who is out of sight and presumably out of mind in Turkey.

The first thing to say is club football and international football are totally different. International football is a lot slower. It’s a different mindset. I got called up to an England B team back in 1996. David Seaman was out injured and then Tim Flowers went down with an injury so I got bumped to the A squad. Nigel Martyn was the first choice and I sat on the bench for the game against Chile at Wembley.

Nigel summed up the differences between the club and country game perfectly. He told me “in international football, you’re generally going to be resigned to taking goal-kicks and picking the ball out of the net.” That’s because the game is a lot slower. In club games, the play is at a much higher tempo and you’re going to have maybe 14 or 15 saves to make. In international football, you’re normally only going to have to make three or four saves.

The teams are trying to work the ball into positions where they’re only a few yards out, so when the shots do come in, you’ve got much less of a chance of keeping them out. At that level, you’ve got to be prepared to do little else but take goal-kicks and pick the ball out of the net. Those requirements don’t suit every goalkeeper. It’s takes much more mental toughness and concentration. To play a long season at club level where you’re making a much higher volume of saves, it’s more suited to the younger and more physical goalkeeper.

From my own experiences, I’m fully aware of the psychological differences between being first choice and second choice both for club and country. At World Cup 2006, I was largely 2nd choice at West Ham, but I was thrown into the limelight for the national team. I knew exactly what was required, so it was no problem to step in and change mental approach.

It’s something England will need. Everyone will hope Joe Hart stays fit and healthy, but if he doesn’t you need to have a certain type of player around. Rob Green is the right man for the job. I’ve always liked him as a goalkeeper. He obviously had a disappointing World Cup in 2010 by his standards. It really knocked his confidence, but he’s going to Poland and Ukraine as a number 2. It’s a completely different mindset when you know you’re the back-up. You know you’ll play the odd game at most and you’re prepared for it. He’s experienced enough to know what international football involves, so it’s worth having him around. He can play that role as well as anybody.

I thought is was a good idea bringing John Ruddy along to give him a taste of senior tournament football. It’s not now going to happen thanks to his broken finger, but it was the right thing to do. Hopefully Jack Butland won’t need to see any playing time and he take build up his experience to play a bigger role in future.

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.

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.

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)

Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Man City

Man City

Joe Hart

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Stuart Taylor, Gunnar Nielsen

Overview: The plan for Man City was to have world-class players on the pitch and world-class players in reserve. That might (although I’m far from convinced) work when it comes to outfield players, but it’s virtually impossible when it comes to world-class goalkeepers. With Shay Given now at Villa Park, Joe Hart rules the roost. Initially I thought Roberto Mancini was currying favour with the City faithful at a rocky period in his tenure at Eastlands by opting for the (relatively) local lad as opposed to the Irishman. Throughout the season however, Hart proved he’s a hugely talented goalkeeper, although not one without his flaws. I still feel Given was hard done by in one sense – Mancini declared that it would be a straight fight between the two for the gloves, but steadfastly stood by him even when the mistakes came – but there can be little doubt that Joe Hart is on a trajectory that could eventually see him considered one of the world’s very best. He’s not there yet however and some sloppy errors served as a reminder of what needs to be done. Hart has amazing agility and reflexes and technically he’s very strong. What needs work is his judgement, decision-making and concentration, but that’s likely to be something that will come with increased Premier League, European and international experience.

The dream of having high-class experienced back-up ended with Given’s departure, but Stuart Taylor is a capable deputy. In the early part of the naughties, Taylor’s future looked immensely promising. He was part of the England underage set-up and was shaping up well to become David Seaman’s heir at Arsenal, but the arrival of Jens Lehmann pushed him down the pecking order and in truth his career has yet to recover. Since then, he’s largely been confined to being 3rd choice goalkeeper for a variety of clubs, but there was potential there many years ago and if called into action he could still perform to the required level. After that, Man City are looking at Gunnar Nielsen of the Faroe Islands. Brian Kerr certainly rates him very highly, but whether or not that’s enough to make that grade at Man City is another question. He’s since had a number of loan spells around Britain, but his contract runs out at the end of the season and at that point he’s likely to seek first team football elsewhere.

Worst case scenario: As with all young English goalkeepers, there’s this permanent fear that one poor performance – especially for the national team – will give the press carte blanche to savage Hart. It’s unlikely, but should Hart suffer a sustained dip in form, it will be interesting to see how he responds. He hasn’t had to endure a major slump in form since becoming a Premier League regular and the dark days have stayed away. Only an injury to Hart is likely to see Taylor getting much game time and even in that case, City will probably look for an emergency loan option.

Most likely outcome: Hart will again perform well, make the odd mistake but overall be a big positive for City. Barring injury, there should be little need for the back-up options.