De Gea showing signs of delivering for Manchester United

**BET £10, GET £20 FREE AT PADDY POWER – CLICK HERE**

Manchester United

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


**BET £10, GET FREE £20 AT PADDY POWER – CLICK HERE**

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)

Premier League: Manchester United Need To Be Patient With De Gea

David De Gea

On the spectrum of starts, it’s not an absolute disaster. It is however far closer to the catastrophic end of the scale than it is to the successful end. It hasn’t cost silverware or points, but two games into his Manchester United career, David De Gea is on the ropes. And what’s probably more disconcerting for fans hoping to see the youngster succeed is the pace at which he has got to experience the sharp pens of the savage British press.

I wrote some time ago that my biggest fear about David De Gea being a success at Manchester United has little to do with his ability, it was more to do with the increased pressure and scrutiny that comes with being first choice at Old Trafford. He has the personality to handle it, but already the media have been quick to turn on him with the most ruthless of them crossing the line from warranted to criticism to ill-formed sneering mockery. Sean Custis, chief football writer with The Sun moronically wrote:

“The only thing that might stop this exciting, youthful United from retaining their title is new keeper David De Gea. Even his initials DDG look like a text form of DODGY and his early season howlers are causing consternation for Reds fans.”

Of course it wasn’t the finest moment in the history of goalkeeping, but such boorish ignorance is at best unhelpful and at worst the kind of brutality that has virtually destroyed the progress of countless young England goalkeepers in recent seasons. Plus it’s plainly wrong. As pleasing on the eye as some of the football from “this exciting, youthful United team” was, they failed to carve out many clear-cut chances in the second half and with the wealth of attacking talent at his disposal, that is worthy of almost as much examination as De Gea’s goalkeeping.

Sadly it wasn’t an isolated incident with many other pundits prepared to jump on the bandwagon of ill-formed conclusion and declare De Gea’s United career over before it has got the chance to get going. Attempts to pin the blame on him for City’s first goal in the Community Shield highlight the premeditated witch-hunt I believe some members of the press are on. The reason United conceded that goal was down to the fact it was superb deadball delivery and a good header from Joleon Lescott. De Gea may have made the briefest of motions forward, but he was hardly flapping at the cross or causing chaos for his defenders and his final position was pretty much where a keeper should in such a situation. A certain amount of such negative comment about his time in England so far is merited, but the relish with which Custis and certain others grasped the opportunity to deride another human being was an appalling reflection of the standards of journalism and punditry in Britain.

Thankfully, more constructive explanations have abounded in the aftermath of the West Brom game also. The excellent Shaka Hislop (@ShakaHislop) suggested that his problems are related to poor footwork and could be coached out of him by Eric Steele. The equally excellent Adie Creamer (@gkaade) , goalkeeping coach at the Watford FC academy put forward a theory that leaned more towards the mental aspect of the game and the young Spaniard’s ability to handle the overall pressure that comes from the Premier League. I can see some merit in both. At the moment, De Gea’s footwork seems a touch uncertain – as is much of the rest of his game – but from watching his development at Atletico Madrid, I know under normal circumstances his footwork isn’t bad and is actually one of his virtues. Something is happening that is affecting the very fundamentals of his game and I would say his problems are almost entirely psychological rather than technical.

What’s even more frustrating is that in between mistakes his talent is obvious. His reactions are solid and his handling sound, but he just isn’t at the races at other times. My hypothesis – for what it’s worth – is that De Gea is over-thinking at present. There has undoubtedly been a certain slowness to his game so far. Difficultly adapting to the pace of the British game may partially explain it, but I think it’s more than that. I suspect when the ball looks to be coming his direction at the moment, for a split second, either consciously or in his subconscious, De Gea thinks ‘I have to save this’. It’s a result of the pressure that comes with playing for such a huge club and the fact he has left his comfort zone by leaving Atletico. He doesn’t feel comfortable as yet and his quest to compensate leads only exacerbates the problem. It only takes a millisecond, but whilst De Gea takes this millisecond, he’s no closer to making a save, but the ball’s arrival is imminent. In the Community Shield, he seemed to be ponderous for the Dzeko goal and by the time he committed to a dive, he couldn’t adjust for the movement and dip in what was an otherwise straightforward shot. Against West Brom, Shane Long hit a shot that he would gobble up 99.99% of the time away from the intensity of a Manchester United match. At the risk of sounding like a Danielle Steele, I would equate it to breathing. Breathing is instinct to us all and for goalkeepers, throwing whatever part of your anatomy will do the job in the path of the ball feels natural almost to the point of being innate. As fanciful as the comparison is, when you start to think about your breathing or inhaling and exhaling correctly, it starts to feel somewhat laboured and far from the automated process it should be. When De Gea doesn’t have that moment to think and relies on his instinct, there doesn’t seem to be a problem as we saw with his fantastic save moments before the calamity.

As for Fergie, he may be tempted to turn to Anders Lindegaard. The Dane showed some good form in pre-season and has reportedly been making noises about not being happy with regards to his place in the pecking order. Games like Sunday only lend weight to his claims and it’s only natural that Fergie might want to give him a run out. I stand by my previous assertions that De Gea is good enough to succeed at Old Trafford, but equally the press have disproportionate power when it comes to hammering the nails into his coffin. That’s part of the deal when it comes to being Manchester United’s number 1 and he now has very little margin for error.

What’s needed in a Premier League winning goalkeeper?

How much does the goalkeeper matter in a team aspiring to win league titles?
Is it possible, with enough outfield talent, to get away with a custodian touched more by the brush of distinct averageness than sublime greatness? Inspired by a watching of The Damned United and the remarkable vision of one Brian Howard Clough and curious to know how vigorously Manchester United should be in their pursuit of David de Gea, I had a look at the pedigree of goalkeeper associated with Premier League winning teams. Even though it brought him a fair deal of criticism at the time, Clough’s purchase of Shilton was inspired and paid of in the most spectacular of ways. Winning back to back European Cups when it was genuinely a cup competition and there was substantially less room for error showcased the potential benefits of a top class goalkeeper and to this day, there seem to be managers with aspiring title-winning sides who fail to grasp the importance of having a solid performer between the sticks. It’s far from an exact or even particularly detailed science. Although I’m aware there was football before the Premier League, statistics can be a bit sketchy prior to that so I’ve begrudgingly accepted that as my arbitrary cut-off point.

Premier League Winning Goalkeepers

One thing immediately stands out – the list oozes quality. There’s not much more than can be said about Schmeichel. Tim Flowers was excellent for Blackburn and probably deserved more than the 11 England caps he earned. David Seaman gets a hard time for a handful of high-profile mistakes, but his years of performing superbly for Arsenal make him a genuine great. After a couple of years of struggle, Petr Cech has battled back to be considered one of the world’s best and with time on his side, may go on to be considered on of the best of all time. Again, there may be an unfair weighting given to the moments of madness that littered his later career, but Jens Lehmann was fantastic for Arsenal in their Invincibles season and performed well beyond that despite collecting little in the way of silverware. Barthez may be remembered as something of a calamity keeper and although his errors were at times tremendously amusing, he was a World Cup winner who’s overall contribution was overwhelmingly positive, despite the occasional moments of madness. Eventually the errors got too much to bear for Sir Alex and he was shipped out. but the Frenchman won a World Cup, a Champions League, several domestic titles and a plethora of individual honours during his career, so clearly he was a player of immense ability.

There is one exception and that comes in the 1999-2000 league season when Mark Bosnich was mostly United’s first choice with Raymond van der Gouw stepping in where necessary and Massimo Taibi briefly adding the comedy value. That’s not to belittle the talents of Bosnich who was utterly breathtaking at times during his career at Aston Villa, but clearly by the time he reached Old Trafford, the demons that would later seriously derail his career had arrived on the scene and he failed to recapture the stunning form of his years at Villa Park. From an early stage, it was clear the Sir Alex Ferguson had minimal faith in Bosnich and its surely no coincidence that in this season of chopping and changing within the goalkeeping ranks, United conceded 45 goals which remains the most allowed by any Premier League champions including the 42 game seasons of the early 90s. United had claimed the treble the year before and such was the talent they had, not only did they compensate for the absence of a top quality goalkeeper, but they did it by romping to the Premier League title with almost unimaginable ease. It’s the exception that every rule needs to have.

Ignoring the separation of league-winning goalkeepers into a further hierarchy of ability and such horribly vague labels as ‘legend’ it’s safe to say that the vast majority of the goalkeepers – at that time in their careers – were very, very good and amongst the best in the world. As such, there’s a clear correlation between a quality goalkeeper and winning leagues. You may have assembled a stunning array of outfield talent, but unless it’s a truly exceptional team, a substandard goalkeeper can’t really be hidden. Is it surprising that Arsene Wenger’s trophy drought has run largely in tandem with Manuel Almunia’s reign as number 1? This isn’t about mocking Almunia – I can remember a time when people sang ‘England’s number 1’ by way of genuine praise as opposed to a sneering chant – he’s a good keeper, but he highlights the difference between good and exceptional that is required from a goalkeeper in a team aiming to win leagues. If you don’t have a top class number 1, you may get away with it for a while, but leagues are about performing consistently to decide who’s the best and the goalkeeper is a perfect microcosm of this. Over the course of a season, a goalkeeper who makes five mistakes that cost a goal in 38 games could easily cost his team 10 points and that’s a huge tally for a team going for a title. Five mistakes isn’t a huge amount, but when dealing with thin margins between success and failure, it’s enormous. Very often the best thing about a top class goalkeeper has nothing to do with amazing athleticism or lightening reflexes, it’s the timing – doing the simple things right, taking charge at key moments and settling a defence that may be struggling. Casillas and van der Sar are masters of this and it’s no surprise that they’ve collected the volume of medals they have.

Is substantial investment in a goalkeeper warranted? Well, not if you can find your own Schmeichel, but if not, your best bet is splashing the cash.