Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Clean Sheet 5

The great news this week is the Socceroos selection of some great A-League rising talent for the upcoming EAFF East Asian Cup tournament in Hong Kong commencing on December 1. The Socceroos will play four games in seven days, giving plenty of opportunities for many to impress Holger Osieck ahead of the remaining World Cup qualifiers in 2013.

The big news for Clean Sheet readers is finally seeing Mat Ryan get his first senior cap for his country. Mark Schwarzer’s service to the Socceroos can never be questioned, but it is tournaments such as these that are an important part of the succession plan facing Australian football.  There is no shortage to Australia’s keeping stocks both here and abroad, but it is the high stakes international qualifying clashes that are the real test of any player wanting to cement a place in the Socceroos inner sanctum. I may be biased in my writing but when watching the many Socceroos, Matildas and Joeys games you can easily see what it means to play for their country. The pride in the shirt has never been more respected, and as fans we should try and remain positive about the international football landscape in this country. There will always be ups and downs for national teams (just look at England) and coaching strategies and direction come under constant criticism, but it is the grassroots and the countless youth leagues that need ongoing care and attention to maintain and feed the current squads at the top.

Well what a giant feast of ‘Clean Sheet’ action in the EPL over the weekend just passed. Unfortunately for the goalkeeping minority, the A-League only plated up one small calorie controlled sized serving of keeping clean sheet prowess. The lucky diner happened to be the Victory’s Nathan Coe who managed to keep the leather /synthetic /polyester / latex composite sphere from reaching the net. Coe’s performance was solid as he recorded his first clean sheet of the season. His well timed save from a Mark Bridge header was made all the more impressive after Victory were forced to play the majority of the match without key defender Sam Gallagher. It is obvious that strengthening the defensive structure at the Victory was given a high priority after leaking five goals in their poor showing in week two against the Roar. The Victory have now crept up the ladder into equal third place are unbeaten from their last four outings.

Adelaide and Central Coast continue to be the benchmark of the competition and you have to think that finally breaking the 14 match Gosford Brisbane Roar hoodoo they are serious contenders for the title. According to Rado Vidosic his team resembles more of a kindergarten outfit than a team that has won back to back titles. In these times where the playing group hold the slim balance of power in the shed, harsh criticisms by the manager can sometime prove to backfire on team harmony. Only time will tell. Until then let’s see if Rado’s  team bounces back at home this week against the Newcastle Jets.

My thanks go out to the glove men in the EPL this week after eight keepers recorded clean sheets for their respective clubs.  Despite playing only five premiership games this season for Swansea, Gerhard Tremmel earned my keeper of the week for his determined display to keep the Liverpool side scoreless and continue the frustrating fortunes for their manager Brendan Rodgers. The German born Tremmel is making the most of his chance to replace injured starting keeper Michel Vorm. And he is certainly one to watch over the next month as they seek to put a Capital One Cup into the trophy cabinet at the Liberty Stadium.

Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic has hit the lead in the EPL Clean Sheet table after recording his sixth clean sheet of the year. Sadly Stoke have recorded only three wins and seven draws this season but you’d have to think that without Begovic at the back things could be much worse for the Potters. As the northern winter weather starts to engulf much of England over the coming months, start to keep your eyes on the adjustments the top keepers make to their game. As the pitches start to get greasy and muddy the six yard box begins to resemble more of a mine field making the job of keeping clean sheets nigh on impossible. Strikers will also look to attack the surface differently by trying to keep balls lower and look to bounce the ball in front of the keeper.

I thought since the ‘Baggies’ (West Bromwich Albion) are travelling so well in the EPL after 13 rounds, we would put their keeper Ben Foster under the microscope this week to see if his stats measure up.  Since Foster joined the Baggies on loan from Birmingham City back in mid 2011, he looked to put his bad run of injuries and form behind him to compete in 37 of their 38 league games. All this while grabbing a club record equalling 10 clean sheets whilst going on to help the club gain its highest league position in 30 years. Last season he was voted the club’s ‘Player’s Player Award’ and has since put pen to a long term deal to keep him at West Brom for a further three years. This week his side takes on Swansea at the Liberty Stadium so tune in and watch two of the league’s form keepers in what promises to be a tough game to pick the result.
That brings me to the ‘Keeping Clanger’ of the week.  It unanimously goes to poor old Ali Al Habsi from Wigan Athletic, who probably wishes that the goals had turned into a Deep Space Nine ‘Black Hole’ after fumbling a deflected shot from Robson-Kanu. Sadly for the mostly dependable Al Habsi, the blunder will forever become part of endless YouTube compilation packages.  I preferred the very kind spin that Sky Sports web writers put on the fiasco.
"Robson-Kanu’s shot spun high up into the air off a Wigan defender but Al Habsi seemed in control as the ball dropped back down. However, a combination of the spin and the wet ball contributed to it slipping through the keeper’s grasp and then hitting the bar before going in off the Oman international."
Doesn’t sound so bad does it?  To date his season in the box has been very positive with a couple of clean sheets to his name and some very fine saves. Let’s hope this blip on the radar doesn’t send his confidence plummeting into the “Bermuda Triangle” of goalkeepers.

Random Clean Sheet Trivia Question
Which goalkeeper has the longest clean sheet record of all time in soccer?
The first person to follow me on Twitter and tweet the correct answer will earn a popular mention in next week’s column along with the answer!

Goalkeeper quote of the week:

Some goalkeepers are really sexy with their feet. I have a little sexiness with my feet, but I don’t like to bring it out.

- Tim Howard (USA and Everton goalkeeper)


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Clean Sheet 4

Round seven of the A-League has come and gone, but the most pleasing thing for me is the three Alex Tobin awards points that Ante Covic (Western Sydney Wanderers) secured helping his side grab a very impressive win away to the Perth Glory. Covic is known as one of the most competitive keepers in the league, and one that never gives up a goal cheaply. On Sunday he showed his worth by putting on a wonderful display of clean sheet goalkeeping. His acrobatic save from a powerful Billy Mehmet shot in the second half was the save of the round in my opinion. His third clean of the season was made more special by having to shut down the strong attacking Glory side after losing Youssouf Hersi in the 38th minute red card for lashing out at Michael Jamieson after a strong challenge.

The disappointing aspect of the weekend was the serious injury to Newcastle Jet’s keeper Mark Birighitti who collided heavily with Wellington striker Jeremy Brokie in the second half of the 3-0 loss at Hunter Stadium. Short term contract Matt Nash was called into action as replacement Ben Kennedy is still recovering from knee surgery. It does highlight how tough the role of keeper can be and Birighitti’s courage can never be called to question. The injury comes at a terrible time for the young 23 year old, who had been in promising form for the club, but now looks set to spend between eight to six weeks on the sidelines nursing a fractured cheekbone.

Adelaide United’s Eugene Galekovic continues to play a vital role in his club continuing to retain top position on the A-League ladder. His impressive stats tally show that he has only conceded four goals for his 630 minutes on the park thus far. He now sits with Central Coast Mariners’ Matt Ryan on four clean sheets for the season. It’s looking like the battle for the Sheridan clean sheets could go right down to wire this year. It could be only coincidence but the clean sheet stats do seem to correlate with the ladder as Adelaide and Central Coast have far superior goal differences to their rivals.

To the EPL and three games over the weekend had clean sheets pop up in the stats sheets. Pepe Reina’s return to the Liverpool starting side helped cement their worrying defensive line, however the Red’s dominance in attack made Pepe’s night far easier then Wigan’s Ali Al Habsi who found himself at the mercy of Luis Suárez and Raheem Sterling. After last week’s positive performance against Manchester United, Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan’s confidence took a huge beating at the expense of a Manchester City five goal effort at Etihad Stadium. The loss moves Villa back onto the relegation tightrope of uncertainty.   
The EPL goalkeeper of the week must go to Norwich City’s John Ruddy who showed Roy Hodgson his worth to the England squad after keeping a clean sheet against Manchester United. As the EPL stats states they have gone 333 minutes without leaking a goal showing that there is real belief emerging in the back four. It must be a worrying sign for Joe Hart as he continues to look over his shoulder after some indifferent performances of late for England. John Ruddy, Jussi Jaaskelainen and Asmir Begovic continue to lead in the clean sheet department, but it is Chelsea’s Petr Cech who is setting the standard to which other keepers should follow. His performance in a losing side against Juventus this morning was nothing short of brilliant. He was very unlucky that two goals came from awkward deflections, but his sharpness and decision making cannot be questioned.  

The keeping clanger of the week is awarded to Newcastle’s Tim Krul. His side is having a poor season to date, but his poor clearance to the awaiting feet of Pablo Hernandez ensured that his perfect cross to Michu delivered the perfect punishment. Krul had nowhere to hide and his side also had to contend with a jeers of a very unhappy St James’ Park home crowd.

The talk still surrounds whether David Beckham will sign with the A-League as his MLS career comes to a close. I’m just throwing out there for discussion but in my humble opinion I feel the A-League needs to change it strategy of chasing marquee strikers and go after a keeper of note! Perhaps bring in Mark Schwarzer, Shay Given or Andreas Isaksson to give the fans what they really want….Clean Sheets!

I leave you with my goalkeeper quote of the week from arguably one of the best keepers in world football…And also one of the finest proponents to ever lather his locks with brylcreem and tie on a headband (Gianluigi Buffon). One of my personal favourites;

“You score goals as a kid then you grow up stupid and become a goalkeeper.”

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy and Juventus goalkeeper)

Clean Sheet 3

Well we are already into round six of the A-League and surprisingly our first managerial casualty of the season. It was a tough call for Ian Crook, but obviously the pressure of coaching the ‘Sky Blues’ was too much to bear. From where I sit, there are some serious questions to be asked of the defensive pattern adopted by Sydney FC. Say what you like about Sydney’s record when ADP is not on the park, but their lapses in the mid field and defence are the biggest challenges facing the incoming boss (whoever that might be). You only have to cast your eyes over Ivan Necevski’s worrying keeping stats (27 saves and 16 goals conceded), to admit that things need to change and change quickly. I’ll randomly throw it out there, but why not sign Željko (Spider) Kalac as boss? If anything he will certainly boost the profile of goalkeepers in this country or at the very least bring brylcreem back as a standard fixture in the kit-bags of many top level players lucky enough to be blessed with healthy flowing locks.

On to the EPL and may I start by saying that I got it terribly wrong last week in stating that Australian keeper “Adam Federici looks destined for an extended stint warming the bench this winter”.  He had an impressive return to form for Reading even though the game failed to worry the scoreboard attendant.  Federici’s commitment in goal helped him deliver his side’s first clean sheet of the season. The praise doesn’t end there with Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic picking up his fifth clean sheet in only 11 games and joined West Ham’s Jussi Jaaskelainen who kept Newcastle scoreless at St James’ Park.  Norwich’s John Ruddy also staked his claims for second spot on the stats sheet with his forth clean sheet of the season, although I’m sure his preference would always have been solely on his club grabbing the three valuable premiership points on offer. It proved to be a great week for Aussie keepers in the EPL with Brad Jones continuing to impress his Liverpool Boss and remain in the starting line up ahead of Pepe Reina.

To Villa Park, and Brad Guzan must have been pinching himself 50 minutes into the clash after the Claret and Blue were two goals up against Alex Ferguson’s men. He certainly wasn’t counting on second half substitute Javier Hernandez conducting a striking master-class and playing a part in all  of United’s three second half goals. United eventually ran out winners to retain top position on the table and put the ball firmly back into Chelsea and Man City’s court to chase them down. Villa fans will be buoyed by their side’s confidence building showing, but with upcoming fixtures against Manchester City and Arsenal to follow, Paul Lambert’s task to move his side safely above the relegation line doesn’t get any easier. The London Derby between Arsenal and Fulham produced my save of the week. Mark Schwarzer’s outstretched go-go gadget arm penalty heroics singlehandedly delivered a point for his team. His effort avoided what would have been a cruel loss after a very poor hand ball judgement handed down by Phil Dowd in the dying seconds of the match. 

Moving to the A-League, my gripe of the week is the lack of keeper recognition by the Foxsports commentators in rewarding their on field efforts with any points towards the Alex Tobin Award tally. As a spectator at last Sunday’s Brisbane v Adelaide clash, Eugene Galekovic failed to win a solitary point from the expert panel in the commentary box. Not only did he add a clean sheet against a relentless Roar attack, but arguably made the save of round five and help his side grab the three points. Central Coast keeper Matt Ryan has taken the lead for the coveted ‘Clean Sheet’ title with his fourth of the season against the Phoenix. The only question is will he surpass his debut season tally of 12? Sadly he is yet to earn any Alex Tobin points for his near perfect efforts on the pitch. On a positive note Ryan received a massive boost to his keeping stock value by getting a Socceroos squad call up for the mid week friendly against the Korea Republic in Hwaseong, It is unclear whether Holger Osieck will rest veteran Mark Schwarzer in favour of starting Ryan, but it would a real boost to see him get some game time at international level. Something tells me it won’t be too long before we see him leave our shores for bigger and better things after trialling with Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion in July.  

To date I’ve been unsuccessful in tracking down any keepers here and abroad who are prepared to answer a few brief questions in forming a light hearted bio titled “Penalty Shoot Out”…  The idea is to pepper keepers with five quick questions from the 12 yard spot to help give the readers a little insight on what makes these characters tick. If there is anyone who can help out, I’d love to hear from you. Just follow me on Twitter @clarkies2340 and I’ll be in touch.

Here is the goalkeeper quote of the week.  I was unable to track Fabien down to confirm his rather awkward quote:

"Unconsciously, I fell in love with the small round sphere, with its amusing and capricious rebounds which sometimes play with me."

I think there’s something in that for all lovers of the round ball….ahem.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Clean Sheet 2

Sadly this week hasn’t done my ‘Clean Sheet’ blog too much justice, as leaking goals was the order of the day. In the A-League, clean sheets were as scarce as recent Tasmanian Tiger sightings. The Central Coast Mariners proved inconclusively that they are again one of the teams to watch this season after netting a club record seven goals on the back of a hat-trick by Daniel McBreen.  The Swiss cheese like defence of Sydney FC compounded a horrible night for Ivan Necevski who spent more time fishing the ball from the back of the net than directing traffic from the six yard box. Despite the pain of the huge defeat, a healthy group of faithful Sydney FC fans who made their way up the F3, remained upbeat and positive by cheering and dancing well into the final minutes of added time. Keeper Matt Ryan had a seemingly more enjoyable night than Necevski, despite not adding to his healthy clean sheet tally. Apart from the obvious defensive lapses, the A-League continues to entertain the healthy crowds who welcome the theatrics that come with post goal celebrations. Thankfully the clash between the Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United finally delivered a clean sheet for the round. Eugene Galekovic’s performance was nothing short of outstanding. His confidence in the box continues to grow and the save from a crisp header by Erik Paartalu in the 53rd minute earned plenty of praise from his manager John Kosmina. Rarely do the stats lie, but in this case it displays the huge importance on converting chances, and not simply dominating possession, field position and scoring opportunities.

Brisbane managed to dominate all measures across the park at Suncorp Stadium except for the one that really matters....Goals
Here’s a quick wrap:  
Goal Attempts: (Brisbane 26 Adelaide 4)
Time in Possession: (Brisbane 68% Adelaide 32%)
Corner Kicks: (Brisbane 13 Adelaide 1)

Brisbane travel to AAMI Park for Friday night’s game against Melbourne Heart and both teams will be desperate to get back into some winning form and stay within reach of the top four.

Melbourne Victory’s keeper Nathan Coe looked for all money to have secured his team’s first clean sheet of the season until a few defensive lapses and two late magic strikes late by Jeremy Brockie, put a dampener on an otherwise successful return to form for the club. Many pundits believe Brockie’s first effort is an early contender for goal of the year.
The A-League’s decision to schedule the match on Melbourne Cup eve also proved to be a masterstroke with a very committed 20,683 fans passing through the turnstiles at Etihad Stadium.

Round 10 of the Barclays Premier League also delivered some ‘exciting’ Clean Sheet action. Norwich City, Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa and a scoreless draw between West Ham and title holders Manchester City proved that defence isn’t dead yet. The Monday night game at the Hawthorns also handed West Bromwich Albion their fourth clean sheet of the season over bottom dwellers Southampton.

As many of us tune in to follow our team’s position on the ladder, their tilt for the title, or simply avoiding the relegation zone, I find it rewarding to measure the success of the often forgotten glove-men. However, the statistical success of a keeper doesn’t always correlate with that of their team’s ultimate premiership position. As it is always paramount to have a powerful and confident oozing striker on your books, a hardened keeper signing can mean the difference between staying up and fighting the slippery slope down to the Championship or beyond.

Sadly Reading’s Adam Federicci looks destined for an extended stint warming the bench over the winter after an impressive display by Alex McCarthy. Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan’s courage can never be questioned after a mighty save and subsequent kick to the hand from Sunderland’s Steven Fletcher helped keep Villa narrowly above the relegation zone. Guzan has been a shining light for Villa this season and restored the faith that Paul Lambert has shown in re-signing the US keeper this year. In coming weeks I will try and provide some detailed analysis on what stats increase the value of the keepers in the top flight.

The keepers who have played in all 10 fixtures this season, it’s not surprising to see the likes of Petr Cech (Chelsea), Joe Hart (Manchester City), and Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion) dominating the table with the most recorded wins. Czech stands on top of the league with Jussi Jaaskelainen (West Ham) and Asmir Begovic (Stoke City) also recording an impressive four clean sheet tally for their respective clubs.

This brings me to the all important “Keeper-Clanger” of the week. In a forgettable night for Sydney FC’s Ivan Necevski, his unfortunate effort in the 29th minute secured the prize. After looking like he snared a crisp shot from Tomas Rogic, he coughed up the ball up only to watch on and witness a rather comical own goal by teammate Sebastian Ryall. Hopefully Ivan has a change of fortune this weekend as they host Melbourne Victory on Saturday night at Allianz Stadium.

My Goalkeeper quote of the week and one that EVERY Keeper can sympathise with:
“Every goal at that level is like a knife in the ribs.” 
(The great England keeper Gordon Banks)
For now it’s neck and neck in the battle for the A-League ‘Clean Sheet’ title, with Eugene Galekovic joining Matt Ryan on three clean sheets after five rounds.

Clean Sheet 1

Welcome to the very first edition of “Clean Sheet”, an inside look at the greatest position in World Football… “Goalkeeper”.

Love them or hate them, goalkeepers are known as being just a little bit left of centre. Books have been written about them. There’s my personal favourite handed to me by my father at the tender age of 12 “Goalkeepers Are Different” penned by the well respected Brian Glanville.  The novel follows the career of Ronnie Blake, a young goalkeeper, and his journey from the ups and downs of injury and rejection through to experiencing the enormous thrill of running onto the pitch in front of a roaring Cup Final crowd. A ‘must read’ for any young keeper wanting to reach the dizzy heights from park football right up to the big time. Sadly life didn’t imitate art in my case study.

As the great strikers always seem be front and centre in the tabloids and broadsheets for all the right and wrong reasons, goalkeepers are often their poor cousins. That’s where my blog hopes to come into its own - by highlighting and promoting the stand-out goalkeeping performances from each round of the very best competitions in world football. I hope it will be the nerve centre, covering everything about those lonely and terminally frustrated individuals who stand guard over that sacred goal, deep inside the 18 yard box.

My love of football goes way back to my childhood, when I was asked by our under nine coach at the time, “Who wants to play in goals”? I sheepishly raised my hand thinking that perhaps this action would transform my sporting career into the stratosphere of greatness. I was right - it did transform me, but not as a brilliant and talented football god!

Despite this my love of the game has never waned and as a staunch armchair critic I continue to watch, read, listen, live and breathe all things football. This includes getting up in the middle of the night to watch World Cup tournaments, endless qualifiers, Euro Championships, UEFA Champion’s League & Europa League, FA Cup, EPL, La Liga, Classico, Serie A, Bundesliga, NPower Championships games etc and of course our very own burgeoning A-League competition. I guess at the tender age of 42 if you’re getting up to make use of the facilities you may as well stay up and catch the odd game on the box.

For now I will concentrate on the local A-League competition and report on how the top keepers are faring with respect to clean sheet stats. I hope to extend my expert analysis to performances elsewhere around the globe, in particular the English Premier League. I will also try to cover any weekly clangers of note, highlighting the odd brain-fades or mix-ups that are bound happen in the high pressured world of professional football.

To make things interesting, it’s my commitment to award an exclusive brand new 1000 plus Thread Count Queen-sized sheet set to the lucky A-league keeper with the best clean sheet record at the conclusion of the regular season. Here’s hoping I can “bed” down a high end sponsor like Sheridan.

So far in the A-League after four rounds, Central Coast Mariner’s Matt Ryan continues to stake his claim for back-to-back “A-League Goalkeeper of the Year” titles with another impressive week in the box. Round Four saw him keep his 3rd clean sheet of the season with a combined total of 10 saves overall. At this rate he’s on track to eclipse his total clean sheet tally for 2011-12 of eight by the end of the calendar year. Close behind Matt are Adelaide United’s Eugene Galekovic, Glory’s Danny Vukovic and WSW’s Ante Covic on two clean sheets. One of the stand-out keeping performances of the weekend would have to be talented young keeper Mark Birighitti from the Jets who pulled off some magic glove work to deny the Victory some much needed confidence in front of goal. He is certainly a keeper on the rise and possesses some wonderful reflexes as shown by his efforts on Friday night at Hunter Stadium being awarded two points towards the prestigious Alex Tobin Award.

The clanger of the week would have to go to Sydney FC’s keeper Danny Vukovic. After keeping Sydney FC to one goal, Vukovic committed a memorable brain fade after sheepishly rolling the ball out to Liam Miller who was comfortably dispossessed by Grant. A quick pass to the awaiting Brett Emerton followed, who performed a deft chip over a red-faced Vukovic to give Sydney the lead and eventual win in front of a healthy crowd of 22,128 at Stadium Australia. Tune into Fox Sports next week to see how many times Danny will roll the ball out of the box against the Mariners at Blue Tongue Stadium this Saturday.

Well that’s all for this week’s wrap. Enjoy the lead up to Round Five. I’ll be heading out to Suncorp Stadium to see the Brisbane Roar host Adelaide United. Last year’s fixture proved to be a goal fest after “Super” Dario Vidosic scored in the fifth minute only to see the Roar go on to score seven unanswered goals courtesy of a Besart Berisha hat-trick and Henrique double.

My Goalkeeper quote of the week:
“My colleagues spend most of their time with their backs turned towards me. I don’t believe it’s because I am unpopular – honestly”
(Brad Friedel) The evergreen 41 year old keeper for Tottenham.