With the Premiership finally back underway, and after a World Cup of quite frankly tiresome and boring debates about the movement of the Jabulani ball, the Premierships’ goalkeepers got off to an extremely patchy start this weekend.
Tim Howards’ calamitous error off of a routine long ball against Blackburn turned out to be extremely costly as his side crashed to a lacklustre 1-0 defeat away to Blackburn. Croatian striker Nikola Kalinic pounced superbly after Howard spilled an easy catch and the American will be having sleepless nights after this gaffe.
Chris Kirkland was poor against Blackpool, letting a Rocky Baptiste cross in at his near post, a cardinal sin for any goalkeeper, and he should have done better in the lead up to the other three Blackpool goals as his side slumped to a humbling opening day defeat to the newly promoted side.
Over at Stamford Bridge, Scott Carson confirmed every fans preconceptions of his ability between the sticks and lived up to the shockingly low expectations we’ve all come to expect from him. In all honesty, Chelsea didn’t even have to get out of second gear to see off a lightweight West Brom side, and Carson wasn’t helped by his team’s wall parting like the Red Sea on two occasions as he let in successive free kicks, but the £1.5m spent on Hull’s Boaz Myhill looks like money well spent on manager Di Matteo’s part now.
Robert Green looked shaky against Aston Villa, repeatedly flapping at balls into the box, a key weapon in Aston Villa’s armoury, and it was his tame punch that led to the opening goal by Stewart Downing.
Pepe Reina and Manuel Almunia also proved to be the defining factors in the Liverpool vs. Arsenal game in Sky Sports first Super Sunday extravaganza of the season. Almunia, as anyone will tell you, is surely one of the worst goalkeepers ever to grace the top flight of English football. Only Burnley’s Brian Jensen stopped him from being the worst in the league last season with some comical displays.
Arsene Wenger seemed to put to bed any rumours of a move for either the recently transfer listed Mark Schwarzer or Shay Given ahead of the end of the summer transfer window with a defiant answer to a post-match question on Sky Sports when asked about any potential move for a keeper’ before the deadline with a simple “no”.
It’s clear for all to see that Almunia is Arsenal’s Achilles heel, with debutant Laurent Koscielny performing admirably before his soft dismissal, and the rest of the Arsenal back four dealing with everything that came their way with consummate ease. Liverpool striker David N’Gog’s goal was a powerful effort, but to be beaten with the ease that Almunia was at his near post should only further enforce the idea that he’s simply not up to the task of playing for a top four club.
Pepe Reina had a fine game, and after he acrobatically tipped over a fine effort from Tomas Rosicky late on in the game, three points looked all but secure. His enviable handling skills were also on display throughout as he dealt with a series of deep crosses into the box easily. But that was all but set to change in the 89th minute, when a floated delivery from the left hand flank caused no end of problems.
Liverpool’s rearguard performed admirably throughout the game after they were reduced to 10-men following a clumsy challenge by Joe Cole in the dying moments of the first half, but Reina was unable to see the cross due to the sunlight that impaired his vision of the flight of the ball, but after getting away with his initial error, with the on-rushing Mourane Chamakh, who was otherwise disappointing, hitting the post, Reina proceeded to flap at the rebound and ushered the ball into his own net with some truly slapstick goalkeeping.
The goalkeeping fraternity was dealt a helping hand so to speak, by an outstanding display by Joe Hart away at Spurs for Man City, seemingly keeping his side in the game all by himself at times with a string of world-class saves which will leave the watching Shay Given wondering quite how he’ll break back into the side. Fulham’s David Stockdale also put in a tremendous show against Bolton and went someway to showing to Fulham fans at least that there may be life after Mark Schwarzer.
It is indeed rare that so many top flight goalkeepers should make such high profile, game defining gaffes in one weekend, and some of it may be allotted to a degree of ring-rustiness as it was only the league’s opening weekend after all, but with the debate of the balls that top flight matches use nowadays dying down to a degree after a series of reactionary statements prior to this summer’s World Cup, it does beg the question whether this current batch of goalkeepers are as good as season’s gone past?
Chelsea’s stuttering pre-season campaign has attracted criticism, but a lot of the panic will be put to bed as soon as Petr Cech is back between the sticks, with replacements Hilario and Ross Turnball more than at fault for a string of poor results, with their decision-making, handling and positioning off crosses all coming under question.
The mistakes attributed to Reina, Howard and Kirkland can obviously be labelled as uncharacteristic, but with the performance level of goalkeeping at this summer’s World Cup put seriously under the spotlight, with the all too convenient excuse of the ball offered up as reasoning for poor displays, it would appear that it’s harder now than ever before to find a consistent goalkeeper.
Errors are common place in top flight football, and keeper’s mistakes are obviously magnified tenfold due to the nature of their position, but even so, this weekend’s displays were poor across the board and it will be interesting to see whether this trend continues throughout the campaign.
So what does everyone else think? Was this weekend’s string of horror shows down to first day nerves or a lack of match practice? Or should it be considered part of a wider issue and is the art of goalkeeping falling in standards?
Written By James McManus