Champions Manchester City and stubborn Stoke City are the only two teams in the Premier League that on average, concede less than one goal per game. While the defensive backline of clubs up and down country has come under fire recently, I would argue that the man between the posts should take his share of the blame. It’s certainly worth asking why so few clubs possess a prominent goalkeeper in the prime of their career?

Take Manchester United for example, a side undergoing their routine, awkward transition between two reliable goalkeepers. At 22 years of age, David De Gea boasts undeniable potential but is raw to core, whereas his colleague Anders Lindegaard is six years his senior but has limited experience at the summit of European football. Sir Alex Ferguson has chopped and changed repeatedly this season, with both men apparently allergic to the number one jersey.

In the wake of their chaotic 4-3 victory over Reading last week, the United boss described it as “agony” and the “worst defending of this season”. A goalkeeper can only be as good as the defence in front of him and the tinkering in both departments has surely hampered rather than helped their title bid.

The defensive frailty is a real concern for those in the red half of Manchester, having already shipped 21 goals this season, three more than struggling Sunderland. Just one side in Premier League history has gone on to win the championship after conceding as many after fifteen games. Unsurprisingly, it was the Red Devils in 1996/1997, but the average for the league’s eventual winners is a mere 11, the current total of fierce rivals Manchester City.

Speaking of Roberto Mancini’s side, even the seemingly faultless Joe Hart has found himself thrust under the intense glow of the media spotlight. Journalists have been queuing up to lambast England’s ‘saviour’ for nurturing an inflated ego, which has allowed errors to creep into his game. However, I would argue he is simply a victim of his own and indeed the nation’s painfully high standards.

Outside the top two, is there a sole candidate that has been consistent, assured and won more points for his team than he has lost? Perhaps such a thing can’t exist within the rigours of modern football. By my calculations, there are only six definitive first choice keepers that find themselves in the optimum 27-32 age bracket. Cech, Reina, Al-Habsi, Foster, Federici and Vorm should by definition, present the perfect blend of experience and physical maturity.

And yet the standout names on that list – Chelsea’s Petr Cech and Liverpool’s Pepe Reina – have both suffered a severe dip in form this season. Neither shot-stopper installs the same degree of confidence or air of authority as years gone by, with only 11 clean sheets between them all season. Perhaps I am being over critical but at 30 years of age they should be at the peak of their career, not sitting at the top of a very slippery slope, encouraging the whispers that they’ve entered a state of decline.

At present, West Brom’s Ben Foster is arguably the leading light in the division with Swansea’s Michel Vorm hot on his heels, although he has been confined to the treatment table in recent weeks. Wigan’s Al-Habsi and Reading’s Adam Ferderici on the other hand are strange characters, one minute sublime and the next surreal, as infuriating as they are dependable for their managers.

The majority of shot-stoppers are either too juvenile – De Gea, Szczesny and even Krul – or a matter of weeks away from being ushered into a retirement home – Friedel, Jaaskelainen and Schwarzer. There is a growing sense that while the Premier League can showcase some of the best attacking talent in the world, it can’t do the same at the other end of the pitch.

There is another angle to this subject which points to the lack of English options in the Premier League, with only John Ruddy providing any real competition to Joe Hart. Ben Foster’s retirement and Rob Green’s resignation to the bench at Loftus Road means Roy Hodgson has had to dip into the lower leagues. However, England U’21 goalkeeping coach Martin Thomas insists he is working with the best batch of ‘safe hands’ for nearly a decade.

Alongside the already renowned Jack Butland, Hull City’s Ben Amos, Middlesbrough’s Jason Steele and Norwich City’s Declan Rudd have thrived on the international scene.

“It’s not only those four, there’s also other lads like Alex Smithies of Huddersfield and Wes Foderingham who’s at Swindon,” explained Thomas.

“The best part of around 65 goalkeepers, a majority who are English and under the age of 26, are playing in the Football League every week. All you hope is they can do well enough to take the next step and eventually work up to the Premier League.” (FA)

Perhaps then this is simply a transitional period, similar to when teams enjoy phases of success before enduring a rebuilding process. The return of the formidable goalkeeper could be just around the corner, and then we’ll be forced to complain that we don’t see enough goals.

What do you think?

Sign in with Facebook and be
entered for a chance to
WIN AN IPAD

Why?

  • Sign up in 2 seconds
  • Use your FB profile image
  • No need to remember a password
  • See which of your friends would like this

Note: We don't post to your wall

Login

Comment without logging in

You will need to fill this out each time to comment so why not quickly login with Facebook!

*

What do you think?

Sign in with Facebook and be
entered for a chance to
WIN AN IPAD

Why login with Facebook?

  • Sign up in 2 seconds
  • Use your FB profile image
  • No need to remember a password
  • See which of your friends would like this

Note: We don't post to your wall


  • Bill
    1 year ago

    What utter tripe. A goalkeeper can only ever be as good as the rest of the back line and the last couple of seasons all the top clubs have had problems with injuries to their main defenders and Liverpool more than any with such a slimed down squad.

    Reply
  • Will Taylor
    1 year ago

    “A goalkeeper can only ever be as good as the rest of the back line.”

    Hmm, now where have I read that before. Ah yes, I alluded to the very same fact in this article.

    “A goalkeeper can only be as good as the defence in front of him”

    If you’re going to criticise my writing, at least gift me the courtesy of reading it properly first.

    Reply
    • Melon Man
      1 year ago

      What was the point of this article’s headline if you’d already covered all possibilities?

      Get off that fence, you’ll get splinters in a painful place :)

      Reply
      • Will Taylor
        1 year ago

        Isn’t that the basis of any good article, to cover or highlight all angle/possibilities?

        I thought I had positioned myself nicely on one side of the fence, by claiming that the Premier League has a distinct lack of goalkeepers in their prime.

        I can’t believe no one has picked me up on the fact that I basically labelled Ben Foster the best goalkeeper in the league!

        Reply
        • Melon Man
          1 year ago

          No, a really good article spots a truth few people have the wit to identify, then deconstructs it in an impartial, informative way.
          Articles stating the bloody obvious are insulting and boring, and those presented with an obvious bias are the worst.
          You haven’t committed yourself to the uncertainty of the headline, only given us an overview of English goalkeeping which hasn’t enlightened us in the least as intelligent observers of our national sport, and worse, delivers no insights we couldn’t find outside of the redtops.
          Martin Samuels delivers top quality articles under his own name, and I’m sure he is responsible for the “sportsmail reporter” articles designed to get the hackles up and circulation flowing – that’s where the best writers should be aiming for – mollify the plonkers with unassigned rumour and wind up, inform the more discerning with genuinely insightful and intelligent analysis, but don’t be afraid to stand by your opinion – no fudging, or else tedium will set in, then you’ve lost your audience.

          Reply

Related Articles:

Tottenham to pull plug on midfielder sale
Porto star open to Chelsea or Manchester United move
Tottenham eye Newcastle ace
Is this Man United star's injury a blessing in disguise?
United close in on star defender