In the final installment of his six part series, FFC columnist Johnny Smithers dons his protective head-gear as two Premiership goalkeepers battle it out.
With the FA Cup out of the way until the end of the month, I will return my focus on the Premier League and compare the often unsung heroes of teams, their goalkeepers. Sorry Spurs fans, there is no room for any slap-stick Robinson here as I focus on the men between the sticks at Man United and Chelsea.
Edwin Van Der Sar
At 37 he is no spring chicken, but if it is consistent performances in the toughest league in the world you are after, United’s Dutch master is untouchable. An almost ever present in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team since his transfer from Fulham in 2005, Van Der Sar helped the club break Chelsea’s hold of the Premier League last season and was unlucky not to lift the FA Cup too.
His calmness and experience that comes from his glorious Netherlands career (122 caps and counting) is transmitted throughout the United backline and teams have a hard time breaking them down both home and away.
Last year he was named goalkeeper in the PFA Team of the Year and turned penalty expert, saving in the Manchester derby as well as winning the Community Shield with three of excellent saves in the shootout.
After recently signing a further one year extension, Ferguson clearly still trusts him to do a job at United as they concentrate on retaining the title.
Admittedly he couldn’t have done any worse than those that proceeded him in goal – Bosnich, Taibi et al – but the question on everyone’s lips was whether anyone could really replace Peter Schmeichal at United? I think Van Der Sar is the closest they’ll ever get.
Widely regarded as the best in the world, Czech international Petr Cech’s tale of recovery has been magnificent. An integral part in the Chelsea success story under Mourinho, his horrific injury at Reading last season left many football fans, not just those of Chelsea, fearing the worst.
However, he was back in a matter of months and Chelsea immediately looked more settled. Very rarely do you see him make a mistake when it comes to commanding his box and he is the best shot stopper in the league.
In April 2007, less than six months after his head injury, he was the first goalkeeper to be named Player of The Month since Tim Flowers way back in 2000. And, bearing in mind some of the outrageously skilful players that we are blessed with in this league, it was recognition of a special keeper.
He currently holds the record for the longest time without conceding in the Premier League (1025 minutes) as well as having most clean sheets in one season (25). These were, unsurprisingly, under the gaze of the Special One but Cech has continued to be in great form as under Avram Grant as Chelsea continue to put pressure at the top of the league.