The old cliché goes that at the end of the season the league table does not lie. The teams who are relegated from the Premier League will go down because they have not earned the points rights to stay up. A myriad of factors contribute to the drop and most of them centre on goals. A team will not win ANY games without scoring goals but if they do not concede they will not lose.
Legendary manager Brian Clough used to say of Peter Shilton that he was worth a dozen points a season. Whether or not the stats back up that claim all of football knew, and still knows, what Cloughie was saying. Further back the great Bill Shankly insisted in a strong spine for his teams, starting with the goalkeeper. And it is that venerable position in the team, ‘between the sticks’ that is likely to be the determining factor come May.
This is purely a personal opinion and anyone is free to question, via the millions of statistics out there, the points made hereafter which are based upon observation. That is because a goalkeeper may have a blinder but be let down by defending in front of him or he can let himself down by his reaction to and decision making for any of the situations he is faced with. So observation is the rule of thumb plus technique in the execution of the basic premise of keeping the ball out of the net.
It is debatable which of the many skills and abilities required of a goalkeeper is the most important in fulfilling a role which, put simplistically, is to keep the ball out of the net, by whatever means within the rules of the game. The really top keepers do that well, consistently, they also carry out the peripheral duties with the same high level of competence, e.g. cutting out crosses, dominating six yard areas, distribution etc.
What has struck me this season, thus far, are a couple of things that have been prevalent in the Premier League; the number of saves being made by a goalkeeper using his legs and, a little further down, the vast chasm between the division’s top custodians and the others in regard to their feet.
Occasionally you might hear or read the comment, of a goalkeeper “he’s got good feet”. Not an admiration of the feet per se, but a compliment to the way a keeper moves on his feet and how quickly he uses his feet to get his body in position to deal with a situation.
Being ‘on your toes’ is perhaps the most appropriate comment regarding a goalkeeper. It has both a literal and a metaphorical meaning. By maintaining posture on the toes a keeper is able to change direction almost instantaneously; left or right, up or down. Quite a useful attribute in the art of goalkeeping. Being ‘on the toes’ metaphorically means the highest level of concentration possible, another top prerequisite and one which the very best custodians possess.
I noticed in the Manchester City win over Sunderland that the former City keeper, Costel Pantilimon gave a couple of perfect illustrations of poor feet when beaten by Yaya Toure and then he demonstrated another example of ‘flatfootedness’ when Jovetic left the Romanian stranded at the near post for City’s second. The keeper was left rooted on both occasions because he had his body weight firmly planted on the deck.
Back to the importance of a goalkeeper in the fight to avoid relegation. A quick look at the teams in the bottom half of the first Premier League table of 2015 makes interesting reading, particularly in the Goal Difference column.
From 11th place down to the 20th all clubs have a negative GD and seven of those clubs are in double figures. The biggest gap in terms of points is between 11th placed Stoke city and Aston Villa just below them BUT four points adrift.
From Villa down to bottom club Leicester the club with arguably the best goalkeeper, is West Brom and Ben Foster. In terms of having `good feet` Ben rates with the top custodians such as Courtois, Hart, Cech and Szczesny.
It will be interesting to see if, during the transfer window, the managers of those teams in danger of relegation, including the two new men at Crystal Palace and WBA, look to improve their chances of survival with a plunge for another goalkeeper. Such a move could turn out to be a key factor in which division a club plays in come August.