Blooding the young keepers
While watching the Carabao Cup match between Arsenal and Manchester City it couldn’t help but be noted that they both placed their faith in their reserve goalkeepers. City had 25-year-old Zack Steffen between the sticks and while he was kept the quieter of the two he still had some moments of uncertainty.
It’s something you usually do not associate with City as Ederson is incredible with the ball at his feet. In the opposite goal Arsenal had Runar Runarrson who is also 25 years old and came from Ligue1 side Dijon. He is part of the Icelandic squad but has only made 7 appearances to date. Unfortunately for Runar he made a howler for the 2nd goal which he literally allowed through his hands quite incredibly.
The significance of this error on a normal night might not be felt by a club and these days the only way to blood a new keeper is to play them in the lesser competitions. But for Arsenal this was a decision that has not helped Arteta or the team. They are under extreme pressure to deliver right now and when going up against City you know your keeper will be tested.
So perhaps leaving Leno out of the side was a gamble that Arteta would pay for. With Emiliano Martinez who starred last season when Leno was injured now departed to Aston Villa this gamble did not pay off.
Irelands Caoimhin Kelleher grabbed some headlines recently when he grabbed his opportunity to debut in his first Champions League game followed swiftly by his Premier League debut.
At 22 years of age Kelleher showed little if any signs of nerves and pulled off some great saves along the way. Most interestingly was the decision of Klopp to start him ahead of Adrian as he explained “We needed Kelleher’s football ability”. It was a brave decision that was rewarded by Kelleher coolly distributing the ball with superb accuracy.
The Modern keeper
Being a great keeper, these days is no longer just about stopping shots. You need to be as good as an outfielder on the ball. You have to be calm and composed in possession and to show in big moments that your position is justified.
Liverpool’s Alison is regarded as the best in the Premier League since arriving from Roma. It is no surprise that the Merseyside club have won both the Champions League and Premier League not long after his arrival.
Rarely at fault for a goal the biggest compliment he can get is that he makes saving the ball easy. He makes big saves with minimal fuss and it’s even rare to see him magnify a save to make it more spectacular. This is something that a lot of keepers in the league could learn from.
Different keepers also thrive under certain conditions when you play in the Premier League in particular. You have to make the big saves but you must also be brave when playing Burnley on a cold Wednesday night.
Keepers must be the playmaker at the back, the distributor to your defenders, the organizer of the back four and the last line of defence that could be the difference between leaving with a loss or a valuable win. For some teams you will be called upon rarely. For others you might go ten minutes before having to make an impact. Concentration is key.
The right keeper for the right style of play
When Pep Guardiola came to the premier league he was used to having always worked with World Class keepers. Notably Neuer and Valdez. He immediately locked Joe Hart from the dressing room and demanded the signing of the Brazilian Ederson.
He was vital to the way he wanted to play. Possession is key and Ederson could easily play in the midfield for a number of clubs such is his quality. He has the ability to pass short but also launch a cannon into the opposition half.
The polar opposite is Slovenian keeper Jan Oblak. Popularly defined as the best shot stopper in the game Oblak plays for the very unfashionable Spanish side Athletico Madrid.
With a passing successful rate of 55% Oblak simply would not get into a team like Bayern/Liverpool/Barcelona/City to name a few. But for Diego Simeone he is the perfect player. Ferocious in 1v1 situations and for dominating his box aerially there is nobody better in world football.
A keeper on top of his game defines the way a team plays. Ter Stegen and Manuel Neuer are 2 peas in a pod for this reason. These are both comfortable in possession but also brilliant shot stoppers. Both are German and it is only by the grace of god that Ter Stegen has only 24 Caps for Germany.
Such is Neuers presence and stability that he rarely if ever misses a game. Ter Stegen has a passing accuracy of 85% but Neuer is the original sweeper keeper. He has definded a generation of new keepers everywhere with his ability to cover his defence. A team can play a higher line knowing that he is there to protect them from a ball over the top.
World Class – Class – Good
People use the words World Class all too often when describing footballers. Let’s state that World Class means consistently brilliant, breathtaking, a leader on the field. Superb shot stopper, excellent on crosses, domination of his box and installs calmness in his defence. So let’s put them out there in categories. Feel free to disagree!
This is why it is so hard for teams when they lose their keeper after a long career. Keepers take an age to mature and no team wants to let them go elsewhere. They are vital to winning the big competitions. When it comes to genuine World Class they are in short company.