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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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.

Goalkeeper World Rankings – June 2011

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (3) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
3. (4) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
4. (5) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
5. (6) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
6. (7) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
7. (9) David de Gea (Atletico Madrid)
8. (8) Manuel Neuer (Schalke and Germany)
9. (10) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
10. (=) Steve Mandanda (Marseille and France)

With the European season coming to an end, there’s been a lull in major activity in my Goalkeeper World Rankings, but there was one major movement that kept me ticking over. The retirement of Edwin van der Sar leaves a hole right at the top of my World Rankings. When it became clear that this would be the Dutchman’s last season as a player, I worried that his lofty place in the rankings may have had too much to do with nostalgia and an over-sentimentality. As the season went on and van der Sar performed with assurance and no lack of agility, it was clear that despite his age, he was still very much one of the world’s elite.

His performance in the Champions League pretty much summed it up. There were some questions asked of his positioning, but I genuinely believe his hesitancy had more to do with the wide variety of attacking options in the Barcelona arsenal rather than error. With los Cules cutting United apart, I think he was on his guard for the through ball and for Pedro and Messi’s goals was a pace or two away from the ideal starting position. Overall though, his performance was excellent and even though it ended with a runners-up medal, individually he went out on a high. Without him, the United could well have been staring down the barrel of a 4 goal defeat.

So despite not having the major European leagues to follow, I’ve spent most of my time looking back over performances from throughout the season to pick out the goalkeeper I think deserves to make it into the Top 10. I had a long hard look at South America and spotted a few keepers I’ll be watching closely in future, but they weren’t quite up to making the Top 10. I threw it open to the floor and I was given cupboards full of food for thought with a wide array of possibilities. In the end, I went for Steve Mandanda and he makes his first appearance on my immensely subjective and totally debatable chart. For a long time, I rated the sheer agility of Mandanda as being comparable to the very best keepers in the world. Where he always fell down for me was his handling. To me it was always a little too untidy and he couldn’t really be trusted to gather most shots at the first attempt, but this season there was a significant improvement in that part of his game. He looks far move comfortable in both his handling and his decision-making. If he continues his progress, he’ll be challenging Hugo Lloris for the starting position with Les Bleus.

There’s little movement elsewhere. Pretty much everyone moves up one to allow for van der Sar hanging up the gloves. The exception is David de Gea, the man entrusted with the responsibility of replacing the Dutchman at Old Trafford. I’ve bumped him up a couple of places based on the strength of his performances at the U21 Euros. His handling was excellent and his showed the agility and command of his penalty area he’ll need to succeed in the Premier League. There were a couple of blips, but what also impressed me is how quickly he seems to be able to get them out of his head and concentrate on the next task.

His progress is almost certainly going to be the main talking point when I look at the rankings next time around.

Van der Sar Holds The Key To Man Utd Victory

One v One – Edwin Van Der Sar v Victor Valdes
Van der Sar v Valdes

Champions League Final. Barcelona. A goalkeeping legend’s last game for the club.
There’s a delightful deja vu about the European Cup decider that will at the very least, give Manchester United fans memories of that night in the Camp Nou twelve years ago. For those who like to link coincidences with fate, the stars may appear to be aligning in favour of the Red Devils, but in truth the result of the game will be decided on 7,000 odd square metres of grass rather than the vast expense of space.

If ever there was an opportunity to go out on an incredible high, Edwin van der Sar has it. Less than a week after collecting the latest Premier League winner’s medal of an astonishingly fruitful Indian Summer to his career, the Dutchman could also be bowing out as a European champion. Whilst we need to be cautious about getting swept up in the fairytale, van der Sar is one of United’s key players – arguably the key – in their attempts to win a fourth European Cup. Hyperbolic as it may seem, he’s coming up against one of the best teams to have played the game and almost certainly he’ll need to produce one of the best performances of his fantastic career if United are to achieve victory.

If there is one area where United are significantly stronger than Barcelona, its in goals. All season long, Alex Ferguson must have watched and cursed the Dutchman’s retirement under his breath. His composure and ability to do the simple things right were a huge part of why Fergie finally achieved his aim of knocking Liverpool of their perch. With his defence not always covering themselves in glory, it was often left to van der Sar to cover for the weaknesses with a well-judged intervention or a commanding claim of a high ball. And then there were the more eye-catching moments such as full stretch saves and breath-taking reflexes. van der Sar has reached his forties, but on current form there’s another half a decade of top level football there if he wants it. It’s hard to estimate just how quickly the body of an elite athlete will deteriorate when age does catch up with a player, but based on his performances, injury-record and appetite for the game, 5 more years may only be an exaggeration of only the very slightest variety. He remains one of the best in the world and the importance of his contributions are only highlighted when looking at the player he’ll indirectly be opposing at Wembley.

At times Victor Valdes gets criticised for the ‘sin’ of apparently not having much to do. The way Barcelona take a near monopoly on the ball and rarely seem to be doing anything other than create whirlwinds of wonderful attacking play seems to have given rise to the view that Valdes isn’t especially good and Pepe Guardiola could essentially name a scarecrow in goals with little adverse effect. There is some truth in the under-employment notion. I look back and my notes and very often there’s a white space beside his name due to the absence of any significant work for him to do. That doesn’t make him useless however. Valdes is a good keeper and as little as he may have to do in the numerous romps that Barca seem to manage, he has a set of skills suited to the demands of the role. He’s generally a brave, very athletic and commanding goalkeeper who is quick to close down opponents, but his greatest talent may well be his ability to concentrate – not only in terms of making saves, but in the more general sense of watching how play develops and always being alert to the needs of his defence – whether its to make a stunning save or being available to take a backpass.

That said, Valdes clearly has the capacity to make a mistake. At the Emirates, a poor piece of positioning allowed Robin van Persie to hammer in a goal that ultimately didn’t cost Barcelona, but made it a more uncomfortable passage. Equally, in the second leg, I recall Barcelona utterly dominated the second half, but Nicklas Bendtner was presented with a glorious chance to send Arsenal through. In the end, it was a poor touch that snuffed out the move, but Valdes – in conjunction with Mascherano – made life as difficult as possible for the Dane. A slight daydream or moment of hesitation from Valdes could have given Bendtner the space he required to finish and knock the Catalans out of the tournament.

Looking back at the 2009 final, the early stages of Valdes’ performance highlight the need for composure and an ability to do the basics right when it matters. In the first seven seconds, Valdes gives United a throw-in in an advanced position courtesy of a misplaced pass and about a minute later, the English side have worked themselves into a promising free-kick position. Cristiano Ronaldo hit it relatively well, but in reality it was a shot straight at Valdes which he couldn’t gather and somehow United failed to score. To be fair to Valdes it did bounce before in front of him and take one of the more erratic trajectories Ronaldo managed to achieved with his woefully over-rated free kick taking, but goalkeepers wanting to be considered amongst the elite in their profession need to deal with them in the overwhelming majority of cases. Games, ties and Champions League runs turn on such moments and had United snapped up the gift they were presented with, the pattern – and quite possibly the result – of the game could easily have been different. At the other end van Der Sar did everything that was asked at him and his stops not only prevented it from being a cakewalk for Barca, but gave United a punchers chance of taking the game.

I also wonder if his defence fully trust Valdes. I’ve seen him get involved in mix-ups with his defenders who at times seem anxious not to have to resort to him (case and point would be this goal against Levante from a couple of weeks ago – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe2-ACui1hk). The frequency of misunderstandings may have a lot to do with the difficulty in communicating in the atmosphere of the colossal Camp Nou, but it seems to be an issue. Maybe it’s trust, more likely it’s just a breakdown in communication – either way, they afford too much of it in the Champions League final.

It’s a true goalkeeping great versus a good goalkeeper. Where van der Sar is strong, Valdes sometimes struggles. Barcelona may well have the talent to render the discrepancy null and void, but the stage might be set for van der Sar to make it count.

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.