Monday, 3 August 2015

Romero: not exactly the king of 'distribution'

With De Gea starting the Red Devils' pre-season games in America, the recent intake of players has included Argentina's first choice Sergio Romero. The goalkeeper best known for playing a couple of club games (his club football is nowhere near a good record as his international one) and then going to a World Cup final, is now added to the Mancunians' roster going into the 2015 season.With the breakup between Valdes and Van Gaal doing the gossip circuit and De Gea still been linked with Real Madrid with Casillas now with Porto, it seems the Dutch manager is looking to add to his dressing room, with depth in between the posts.

Romero over Valdes, honestly?!
Personally, I think the choice of Romero over Valdes is a silly one. You can patch up things normally between coach and player unless something horrendous has gone wrong (an apology outside the media eye normally does wonders), and if Valdes was spun his joining with phrases like "you'll have a shot at the first team", "we'll give you the chance" etc. etc. yadda yadda, then it's no surprise he'd be a little peeved if he didn't get any games in. He only played a few reserve games before being put on the bench, and with no solid back-up options there already, am a little confused about that moot point.

Going by the comments and sound bites coming from United goalkeeping staff, Romero is apparently a great fit because of his confidence, ability, and his great distribution:

I'm honestly not sure how they came to that conclusion, and I can't say that his kicking ability is anywhere near that of Valdes'. Rolling the ball out to a defender to kick long is nothing like punting the ball to a forward pushing into the last quarter of the pitch to create a scoring chance, or even Neuer's infamous long throws! If they insist on highlighting the need for a distributional goalkeeper, why keep looking for available goalkeepers that aren't talented in this skillset!!

No Ter Stegen
Ironically Ter Stegen is the most suited to playing in the mould that Van Gaal is looking for: great at shot stopping, with amazing passing ability to almost pinpoint perfection (and still improving! Imagine what he'll play like in five/ten years time), which is needed for Van Gaal's famous Ajax system of high press, ball retention and cycling that sees the ball transfer front to back and round again to open up lanes to attack through, which requires a goalkeeper that plays 'like an outfield player with gloves on'. Man United have missed a beat and shot themselves in the foot effectively by letting go of a player who is known for this, with the record to back it up. And Romero can't solve these issues...

No Friedel deal
Valdes could have been a steal if Van Gaal had played him right and swapped out his backline for more attacking defenders. Friedel arrived on a free and was major reason for Tottenham's success during his 'Indian summer' in his goalkeeping ability as he stole the show before Lloris was factored into their plans. Valdes arrived on a free and I personally think he is the only goalkeeper that fits Van Gaal's system.

And if Van Gaal really wants to continue a system and pick the players for it (like Wenger or Mourinho), than the other way round of players that make up a system by their mixing playing styles, why continue to play a goalkeeper that is amazing at save making behind a straight four-four-two style system and four man backline that stays together in the old offside trap set-up, when you are making the switch to an adaptive line?

Back-up rather than 1A
Ultimately, he's more likely to be a bench warming back-up goalkeeper to provide support and mentoring for De Gea (IF he stays). A 1A - 1B system is where the second choice can easily step into the other's shoes (like the Sorensen/Begovic relationship); this I can't see happening here. I can understand and see the link with Van Gaal and him having coached him when he played for Alkmaar, sorts the problem of Valdes' refusing to play reserve games - with a working relationship between the two, you'd think there'd be less of an issue! But that amount of money for a back-up, and one that doesn't play the ball well, why continue to keep this up?

A goalkeeper that United should be looking at more is that of Vorm, whose stats of completed long passes were some of the best in the league whilst at Swansea and . Romero doesn't really solve the problem of , and if De Gea does go, he is there purely as an insurance policy, so that the second choice is sorted before they look for De Gea's replacement. They can avoid further dressing room fallout with , and .

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Given to Stoke: thoughts

A veteran transfer sees Stoke join up with Villa-leavee Shay Given. Having made the most of his loan spell at Middlesborough and fighting his way back into the side after a strong cup run, Given has made the decision to leave the club and move forward with his career. With Begovic moving, and Sorensen having already retired, Stoke management needed to look for an experienced veteran to bring into the fold. With Buckland still pushing for that elusive starter opportunity, with so much game experience on loan and internationally with the England U21's, now more than ever Stoke will need a veteran with the right attitude to warm the bench but also be able to step in if needed.

Back-up to Butland?
The signing of Given and not signing of another big name goalkeeper (Given would be a bigger name say ten years ago when he was great for Newcastle!) really suggests to me that Stoke are non-verbally giving the nod to Butland. Butland has also shown his desire to play in the Premier league, and took the offer from Stoke rather than Chelsea (ironically as a back-up role that Begovic has potentially moved for) to match this, and a fair amount of loans to give him the next level up in playing experience to prove he is ready for the big show.

Like I mentioned with Begovic, the Given deal gives Butland support from the bench and a mature, experienced goalkeeper to learn from, go to for advice and to work with on the training ground. This should make for a great tandem as Butland gets given his opportunity to shine, and Given is there in the background to egg him on.

Begovic to Chelsea: why?

The move of Begovic to Chelsea is quite an interesting one, with the Bosnian international trading regular games with Stoke to potentially 'riding the pine' of the bench at Chelsea. Courtois, who has continued to add to his silverware, took the no. 1 shirt from Cech and ran with it. Mourinho is known for his shrewd approach to the transfer market and with plenty of other examples of backup transfer attempts, like with Butland and Ruddy, Chelsea are keen to fill the void left by Cech.

And so here's some thoughts on the reasons behind the transfer...

Champions League football
Moving to Chelsea allows Begovic to get the chance to test his mettle against some of the world's best players in European competition. Even just for the starting games, he gets the chance to put himself on a bigger stage, with more mental roadblocks, like dealing with the increased media coverage and fanfare of playing in big games like this. As Bosnia's number one, and for an emerging team that might want to push for a World Cup historical success, he needs this kind of experience.

Injury cover
We all know how well Chelsea have done in recent years with their cover in the goalkeeping department and with Cech gone, Mourinho has no chance to simply point to the bench and bring on an experienced veteran that can guarantee them the win, should Courtois pull up injured. Bringing in Begovic solves this as he has the experience and mentality to provide cover as needed.

Time share
Playing with Stoke, and sharing time with Sorensen, Begovic is pretty used to the routine of having to prepare to play week and not the next. It takes a special kind of goalkeeper, person and mentality to have a time share in goal at this level. It's pretty common to see in ice hockey, where goalies will play upwards of 60 games and the coach can turn to whoever is 'riding the hot streak' to see out some wins, or to give the first choice time to rest for the playoff run.

It's not too common in the EPL but Mourinho might be considering a 50-50 split eventually (or if Begovic plays well enough) so that he can keep his young prodigy sharp and rested, and to ease the pressure on a young mind from cracking.

Guiding Courtois
A thing of the old days which is forgotten about a lot in the age of superstars in the media, is the need for a goalie pa- a father figure, room mate and encourager to keep the first choice content and ready for success. Goalies train with each other, spend a lot of time with each other, and can push each other on to greatness, like with the simple competition at training of stopping the most shots. And not just making sure the goalies don't hate each other behind the scenes, goalies that get along, will do so much better as a team.

Courtois is incredibly efficient with his technique and maturity, but there is always more to learn (so long as you care enough about being the best you can be). With him looking to continue his dominance of Belgian callups and at Chelsea, it would be good for him to have a guiding figure who has been in the game longer than he has to provide tips and support from the goalie's point of view. Ironically this is the same kind of role that Given can provide at Stoke, if they choose to give Butland his chance, and will play a big (if invisible) part in his evolution.

A busy summer for goalie transfers

With so many top name goalkeepers being actively linked with new clubs and others looking for new opportunities to push for first team games, it's going to be a busy transfer window this summer. As ardent fans of goalkeeping, it will be great to follow and make the pre-season a more interesting show than having to put up with star name strikers and the like making changes.

There are a lot of goalkeepers that could be potentially moving, as well as plenty of rumours about possibles. I'm hopefully going to cover the trades with some more insight as to why and whether they'll be a good fit.

Done deals:

  • Cech to Arsenal
  • Casillas to Porto
  • Begovic to Chelsea
  • Turnbull to Leeds
  • Given to Stoke
  • Al-Habsi to Reading
  • Romero to Man Utd


  • Valdes up for market after refusing to play reserve games
  • Heaton to Everton as a long term replacement for Howard
  • Hennessey said to be linked with a lot of teams but no solid offers - makes sense if Palace stick with Speroni who has been so strong for them (and the last games of the season allowing club to show off his market value)


  • Westwood - shown so much promise with Sheffield Wednesday and a good bargain should a Premier league side move for him
  • Craig Gordon - would be surprised if no-one moves for him after having such a strong outing with Celtic after making his comeback from injury
  • Szczesny - introduction of Ospina into the Arsenal team saw him stuck on the sidelines. Not wanting to languish on the bench, I could see him moving elsewhere to get game time.

Casillas to Porto and the domino effect

So the deal is done, the rumours are now reality, and after a legendary career with Madrid, Casillas is off to Portugese title challengers Porto. Looking lacklustre and despondent a lot of last season, it's the perfect chance to free himself from the toxic environment that comes with being a superstar and not living up to previous expectations. With De Gea hot on his heels for international selection, it could be more than just the passing of an era at Madrid, with his Spanish number one spot up for grabs and his career declining (no Champions league semi/final guarantee).

This leaves question marks over his replacement, with De Gea still being suggested, even by Van Gaal, and Madrid already owning Keylor Navas and Casilla (who has been performing well enough in recent outings).  And with him leaving, it will a create a big domino effect as goalkeepers shift clubs and coaches and analysts and scouts lean towards buying in talent that can assure them similar levels of success in the top tier leagues. I think this transfer window could be one of the biggest (if not, the) in recent history as clubs look towards the market to sure up their goalkeeping positions.

For Casillas, it's a great opportunity to get away from it all - in a sense - there will always be media attention wherever he goes, but I think he might want a change in career, as it looks like he doesn't want to be there a lot of the time. Let's not forget how talented he is and what he has achieved.

A big factor could be him peaking to early as a goalkeeper due to the sheer amount of games he has played (international, domestic and cup competitions) meaning he hasn't really had a break or rest in over 11 years, with all the training and off-season work required to stay at a high level of consistency. At 30, he would be expected to be in his golden age as a goalkeeper, but like Courtois, who has achieved so much so young, how higher can you really go, if you are already technically perfect? It's food for thought at least...

Whatever Casillas chooses to do with his career, his move away from his lifelong club as a pro will make for great discussion and rumour mills for goalkeeping fans everywhere.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Cech to Arsenal

The biggest goalkeeping transfer for the EPL so far, this early on in negotations, is Cech's move to Arsenal. There were a lot of comments being made linking them and by ex-Gunners goalies about how great Cech would be, and gathering momentum about Cech being the perfect fit; his experience, his maturity to lead a young team (which Wenger seems to favour right now), will pay huge dividends going forward.

After Courtois took the reins once he'd been given the chance by 'the Special One', it was guaranteed that Cech would go. Whilst he would be a great mentor, this isn't the time in his career when he should be warming the bench, and Arsenal are a gift in disguise; saving him and also saving Arsenal who have had no legacy in goal since the days of Seaman.

The good
Cech walks into the starting job even if he'll be a little rusty for regular games; he can get back his confidence and lead from the front. Arsenal give Cech the chance to fight for Champions League placings and beyond, whilst Cech can be the missing piece in the puzzle to win the league. Cech has a proven CV of experience and the mindset to back it up - he can leave a good impression on the youth and help them develop to top tier players.

The bad
Arsenal are one of the few teams in the league that truly play a counter-attacking system (Tottenham - ironically - and Liverpool being the others), which requires good kicking ability, and Cech isn't known as a sweeper keeper, which would be needed for this role without changing the playstyle and press of the team. Whilst Cech is an amazing shot stopper, it's a bit late to add this element to make him a really modern footballer (i.e. akin to what we're seeing in Ter Stegen). He's not used to playing behind a high line that forces him to play aggressively, or kick to touch on a breakaway, so this could prove difficult for the two to marry technique.

The ugly?

Szczesny could be an issue. He's not the kind of goalkeeper that wants to warm benches either! Ambitious to say the least. He's already known to cause a bit of a stir in the dressing room and in the papers, . Arsenal don't need . And they have a pretty poor track record of managing goalkeepers and goalie relationships. Remember the  Lehmann - Almunia saga? And more. Ospina was brought in after a strong World Cup and will also be looking to move for games (to move forwards for another cup and keep in the running for his international selection), and is now no longer needed.

Whatever happens though, Arsenal have just saved Cech's career (there are no other teams in the league looking for a goalkeeper of his calibre, and he could have ended up at another club with no European football etc. etc.) and Cech could save the Gunner's reputation.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Westwood deserves a second chance

Whilst there are plenty of goalkeepers that have had media notable seasons, one that has quietly gone about his business largely unnoticed is that of Sheffield Wednesday's Keiren Westwood. The Irish international was seen as a liability for Premier League standard play, and was replaced by Mannone and City's Pantilimon was brought in, but like Craig Gordon, has been on fire and showing what his former employers are missing.

When Sunderland let Westwood go in the summer, they thought they were freeing themselves off a deadweight (injured goalkeepers automatically drop low in stock despite how well they have been played - hint - try not to get injured!) and another wage packet. And instead of letting that get to him and ruin his confidence and self belief, he turned things around massively.

He looks like the real deal because of his hybridised approach (able to deal with anything and select the right save for each shot etc.) and a great acquisition should any of the Premier League's teams go looking for a new 'keeper in the off-season. Voted onto the PFA Championship team of the season and picking up various awards, he is a definite upgrade for his team and any other looking to take on his services.

A lot of Westwood's success has been down to his save selection and attacking depth (changed to deal with shots near the goal line, as seen in the highlights), so it is worth noting analysis of his save technique. Unafraid to be unorthodox, he has had a lot of success with properly used leg saves to block lower and cover with quick reactions low when he cannot dive out to reach low.

So, he are some worthy save pointers:

  • Westwood has made a lot of leg saves this season (more than De Gea ;) and in all of the English leagues) - a style popular in Europe (something Cech might do but rarely) BUT ALSO has brilliant rebound control to push the ball away ON the save to get it away to safety
  • Great rebound control - sees shot early, and controls ball to safe area free of players (and their rebound attempts)
  • Happy to 'get big' and block with his body on point blank range shots
  • Reading the game really well - well aware of danger before it happens and very quick off his line to deal with or get in position to do so
  • Big selection of saves 'in the toolbox' to help him deal with any and every possible save situation
  • Brave and courageous - important in 1 on 1's and more importantly to play so well when you are worried about having another dangerous injury (i.e. career ending)
  • Incredibly confident - has an air of certainty and supremacy that carries around the team i.e. not worried about losing the game because of their goalie or having to defend and run extra (shown in body languge, dominating his area etc.)