Monday, 28 January 2013

Clean Sheet 11

Welcome to ‘Clean Sheet’, an inside look at the ‘Number 1’ position in World Football… “Goalkeeper”

We start this week looking at the A-League results and in particular the men in gloves. Young Andrew Redmayne recorded his first clean sheet for Melbourne Heart as they had a moral boosting win over second placed Adelaide United at AAMI Park.  The clean sheet came at the expense of Clint Bolton’s recent demotion to the bench, but Redmayne with Bolton’s support has stepped up to the plate and is taking his chance in the starting side. The win helped Heart move into the top six for now, but they now meet the consistent Western Sydney Wanderers at Parramatta Stadium this Saturday night. Another healthy crowd will be on hand to boost the Wanderers chances of another victory over the Melbourne side. In a terrific initiative by the new franchise, all children will be admitted free to this weekend’s clash.
I attended the Brisbane Roar/WSW game at a humid Suncorp Stadium and saw an impressive outfit that showed they now capable of coming from behind to clutch a game. Brisbane dominated possession for the entire match and looked the victors at the break. Tony Popovic’s men continued to move the ball forward to open up the holes in the Roar’s defence and eventually saw them score through Mark Bridge via a clever Jerome Polemnz assist.  Michael Theo was left all at sea with the next strike after the crowd voiced their displeasure to officials over their failure to blow the whistle for offside that eventually led to a clean finish from Youssof Hersi. On replay it was the correct call, as Shinji Ono played no part in the play. For the Roar it’s obvious that all is not happy in paradise with Besart Berisha’s antics testing the patience of many in the playing group. At one stage during the match Berisha found Thomas Broich on the right hand side of the park and pushed a miss-timed through ball only to find it intercepted by an attentive Wanderer’s midfield. It wasn’t Broich voicing his disapproval of poor service by the striker and Berisha’s childish waving and cursing in Broich’s direction did little to quell the speculation of player disunity on and off the pitch. Time will tell if management will tolerate Berisha continuing his regular “I’m taking my bat and ball and going home” antics or perhaps another club beckons. 

Elsewhere and Melbourne Victory flew home from the west in high spirits after getting the three points, albeit from an unfortunate own goal by the Glory defender Scott Jemieson. Nathan Coe picked up his fourth clean sheet of the season and has all but cemented his position as the number one keeper at the club.  The Victory are now firming as a real player in the race for finals after their shaky beginnings to the season.  The real highlight in keeping terms was the match between Central Coast and Newcastle Jets. In a display that would put a wry smile on any keeper worldwide, both sides failed to find the back of the net. Matt Ryan continued on his clean sheet winning ways with some very clinical saves whilst Mark Birighitti also impressed by snaring his third clean sheet in as many matches.

Back in the Harbour City and Wellington’s Mark Paston had an afternoon he would rather forget as they went down 7-1 to Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium. Paston had a busy time fishing the ball from the net after Allesandro Del Perio put on a football master class that gave their fans some hope of a top six birth.

A brief look at the EPL fixtures over the weekend with Manchester City’s Joe Hart again adding another to his tally of clean sheets to lead the League stats sheet with an unbeaten 10. Liverpool’s Pepe Reiner, currently recovering from a thigh injury and broken nose suffered in the Manchester United game enabled Brad Jones to join in the thumping of Norwich and record his second clean sheet from five games played this season. Jones is likely play in Liverpool’s 4th round tie against Oldham on Sunday where it will be an all-Aussie keeper affair with young Dean Bouzanis starting for Oldham Athletic.

The only other clean sheet recorded was in the Southampton v Everton scoreless draw at St. Mary’s Stadium. Surprisingly it was only Tim Howard’s fourth of the season for his fifth placed Everton side, after playing in every league fixture to date. His ability to save the Toffees from defeat in matches is evident from their 11 draws for the season, equalling Stoke City’s heroics.  

This weekend sees some delectable fixtures with relegation poised sides Aston Villa and Newcastle meeting at Villa Park. Hard to say whether Villa will be without Manager Paul Lambert after their disappointing exit in the Capital One League Cup earlier this morning. The other game that could be a potential banana skin for Chelsea is their match against Reading. Reading totally outclassed Newcastle at St James’ Park and will be brimming with confidence. Chelsea will be backing up from a League Cup Semi-final at Swansea and a FA Cup away fixture to League One hopefuls Brentford, so Rafa Benitez may need to shuffle his talent riddled bench about for this one.

Best of luck in tipping the results might be wise to pick a few draws this week.

Football Quote of the week

"I like Balotelli: he's even crazier than me. He can score a winner, then set fire to the hotel." 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Clean Sheet 10

This week produced more jostling on the A-League ladder with Sydney FC coming back from the death in the final minutes to record a pivotal win in their otherwise disappointing season. The win will give their management and supporters a glimmer of hope in scraping into the top six and finishing off the season in a better headspace. It has to be said the Melbourne Heart played the more controlling football for the majority of the match, but concentration again let them down when Fred left the pitch. Watching the game, I was certain that Andrew Redmayne would keep his first clean sheet, but a couple of defensive lapses at the back put paid to that stat reaching fruition.

Only two cleans sheets to speak of with the Newcastle Jets putting the sword to the hapless Brisbane Roar at Hunter Stadium. Keeper Mark Birighitti notched up his second clean sheet for the club and has come along way in tightening the Jet’s defensive shortcomings over the first half of the season.  This weekend’s clash wont be easy as they head down the F3 to Gosford for the Derby against ladder leaders Central Coast Mariners. The Mariners will be without Graham Arnold on the sideline after he was handed a one match ban for unsavoury comments made to officials in their one all stalemate against Melbourne Victory in Launceston. Both keepers had outstanding games with Matt Ryan narrowly getting the chocolates over Nathan Coe for save of the week. Coe’s spectacular diving foot block of a Michael McGlinchey shot went along way to sharing the points with the Mariners. His impressive display also earnt him his first point towards the prestigious Alex Tobin Award. Speculation still seems to follow Matt Ryan as he seeks a lucrative contract abroad. I can only see positives for young A-League talent being scouted by European clubs. It increases the exposure of our League, develops our talent further by upping their weekly workloads in some of the toughest leagues. As much as it is a loss to the A-League, the bigger picture the impending transfers only strengthen Australian football for future World Cups.

Moving to the EPL and after some late night viewing over the weekend my high opinion of Stoke City keeper Asmir Begovic is unchanged. Although having to cope with a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Chelsea, his performance in the box continues to impress. The fact that Jonathan Waters scored two own goals and missed a penalty should not remove focus off Begovic who managed some very eye-catching saves from the likes of Frank Lampard, Demba Ba and Ashley Cole. If not for Begovic’s heroics this season, Stoke City could certainly have found themselves battling down in the relegation zone. They lead the league statistics with 11 draws this season and with Begovic playing in all 22 fixtures is second only to Joe Hart with goals conceded. Hart, Petr Cech and Begovic stand together at the top of the clean sheet rankings with nine for the year, but it is Chelsea’s Cech who holds a narrow advantage in only leaking 18 goals. Other games deserving of a mention were the Arsenal v Manchester City clash at the Emirates. Until Sunday’s fixture, City hadn’t breached Arsenal’s goal line in the past five meetings or beaten Arsenal at home since October 1975. Wojciech Szczęsny’s bizarre penalty save off Edin Dzeko early in the match gave the Arsenal supporters some hope, but the attacking class and power of City soon shone through to wear down the 10 man outfit and run away with a win and prevent United from all but skipping away with this season’s title. Szczęsny’s form is rarely questioned but the communication lapses between the back four is the biggest concern facing Arsene Wenger as they aim to finish in the top four. Pepe Reina put in a solid effort for Liverpool against Manchester United at Old Trafford and looked set to be replaced by Brad Jones after an ugly collision with Shinji Kagawa in the six-yard box. Reina battled on and showed his usual toughness leaving Brad Jones waiting in the wings for another call up.

This weekend’s round see some appetising encounters starting with the London neighbours Chelsea and Arsenal meeting at Stamford Bridge.  Given that Chelsea play Southampton mid week; their tired legs could give a slight advantage to the Gunners. The highly anticipated game between Spurs and Man United at White Heart Lane will see David De Gea and and Hugo Lloris aiming for clean sheet honours, in what should be a busy game for both keepers. Best of luck with your selections and be sure to always keep one eye on the men in the box.

Random Clean Sheet Trivia Answer:
What keeper has the highest goals conceded tally in the EPL and what is the number?
Ali Al Habsi 39 goals conceded
(As at the end of EPL Round 21)

Football Quote of the week:
"Hart looked very confident with himself, so I thought we had to bring him down a peg or two."
Andrea Pirlo after his chipped penalty in the shoot-out win over England at Euro 2012

Iker Casillas And Victor Valdes – An Era Staring At The Exit Doors, What’s New To Come?

The big question doing the goalkeeping gossip columns of late is who will eventually replace Iker Casillas at Real Madrid and Victor Valdes at Barcelona? Will their replacement come from within Spain or elsewhere in the European sporting Union?

Casillas has been the number one keeper with the Spanish giants until he was benched by Manager Jose Mourinho in favour of Antonio Adan back in late December. Casillas and Mourinho have been tight-lipped preferring to put the team changes down to a need for technical changes. Casillas stated that: “Throughout the week I could sense that I wasn’t going to play but it’s not a setback,” he added. “The important thing was that the team won in Malaga to cut the gap to Barça and Atletico. Mourinho didn’t explain anything to me. He doesn’t do it when I play, nor when I don’t.”

All the talk aside, Casillas doesn’t appear happy at being benched for the first time in a decade and the irony of his inclusion in the FIFA Ballon D’or World X1 must have left a little egg on the face of “The Special One” in what is looking like his final season at the Bernabeu.

Will Casillas look to greener pastures in the EPL or wait until the dust settles at Real after a new manager is appointed? Given that his form has not been at its best, there is a real chance that the club will look at bringing in a fresh signing. Manchester United’s and Spanish national David De Gea has been linked to a move to Real, but arch rivals Barcelona also have him in their sites to replace Victor Valdes.

The two hottest properties in Spanish goalkeeping vying for positions with Real Madrid and Barcelona are De Gea and Valencia’s Vicente Guaita. Lets look at both and decide who is the best option in replacing the likes of Casillas and Valdes.

David De Gea is firming as the favouritie to move to Barcelona but given he is a Madrid local, then if the money is right he may find himself moving to Real in the summer. Despite his small frame De Gea has always battled criticism since joining the Red Devils but his form certainly warrants his number one keeper status at the club. In the 2011-12 season De Gea finished the season with the best saves to shots ratio in the Premier League. The move to Barca would also seem the obvious choice as United could agree on a smoother swap deal in acquiring Victor Valdes.

Vincente Guaita is the other name popping up in transfer talk across the cyber-world. He’s been linked with a possible move to Arsenal, but with all the speculation surrounding Casillas and Valdez, he may choose the easier path of remaining in his more familiar La Liga. He’s currently contracted with Valencia until mid 2015 so doesn’t need to move immediately. To date he’s recorded only two games this season behind Diego Alves due to a serious hand injury suffered in November 2011. There are far more questions than answers and will be considered a risky purchase given his limited game time.
One thing is for certain the speculation is rife as always during January and given Pep Guardiola’s signed at Bayern Munich, then there will be more questions rather than answers on when or if Mourinho will make a return to the English Premier League. My tip is De Gea will win the League with United and stay with the champions if favour of a move to Spain and Casillas will remain at Real for the time being, but all will depend on Mourinyo’s movements. Never a dull moment in January!