First Manchester United, now Tottenham Hotspur; will regular goalkeeper rotation catch on?
Rotation in recent times has been key to the success of many top teams. With the congestion of fixtures leading to many weeks involving multiple games, the need for squad flexibility has become more apparent and therefore managers have taken full advantage of the policy.
In previous times however, the altering of the goalkeeper jersey has proven much rarer than the manoeuvring of outfield players. Records show that four of the top five consecutive appearance holders in the Premier League are keepers. Nevertheless the Manchester United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, this weekend spoke to the Daily Mail of his reluctance to choose a first choice keeper and continue with rotating £17 million man David De Gea and Danish keeper Anders Lindegaard.
It is not a complete surprise to hear such a statement from Ferguson considering the Scot has rotated De Gea and Lindegaard since the beginning of last season, following the retirement of the previous incumbent, Edwin Van Der Sar. Both have had their fair share of game time to impress, but it would appear their manager is still not ready to rubber stamp one down as the first choice.
Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas is another manager who has a constant goalkeeping selection headache as the signing of French Number 1 one, Hugo Lloris, has attracted pressure from various French media sources and the National team manager, Didier Deschamps to choose Lloris over Brad Friedel.
Ignoring the hysteria, AVB has found a happy medium whereby Friedel and Lloris both get games at a time when the manager feel they deserve it. Neither can truly claim they are safe and comfortable in the spot. This is also the case at Aston Villa, where Brad Guzan's performances have grabbed him opportunities despite the presence of one of the Premier League's finest keepers, Shay Given.
Whilst not necessary due to rotation - rather poor form - Southampton, Reading and QPR have also already fielded two separate goalkeepers in the league this season. Kelvin Davis, Adam Federici and Rob Green have all seen themselves seconded to the bench with Paulo Gazzaniga, Alex McCarthy and Julio Cesar stepping in to the vacant position. It would appear that as the game has become more financially-driven, such faith shown to keepers previously can be ill afforded. Long gone are the days when keepers would hold the spot for season upon season, bar the few exceptions such as Pepe Reina at Liverpool and Evertons Tim Howard.
It is hugely debatable as to whether rotation of a goalkeeper is for the benefit of a club or the detriment. On the plus side, to quote the cliche, it keeps the keeper on their toes. It threatens the safety of the current incumbent to the point where the player knows only a good performance will retain the position. Meanwhile the challenger is aware that impressing during the opportunities given will place his name at the forefront of the managers mind.
This was how Roberto Mancini eventually came to selecting Joe Hart over Shay Given at Manchester City, such was the pressure the young man was exerting on Given's place.
Goalkeeper rotation can be particularly effective when one of the contenders has recently been purchased for a large amount of money. Whilst many would struggle to handle the temptation to throw a big money signing straight in, reining the individual back shows that a strong work ethic will be required to achieve the breakthrough to the first team. Both Ferguson and Villas-Boas have adopted tis approach in the cases of De Gea and Lloris; De Gea has improved game upon game whilst Lloris' attitude is strong enough to react positively rather than negatively to being left out initially.
However there are of course drawbacks. The above two positives are reliant on the psychological confidence a goalkeeper has. Those with low self-esteem could view benchings as rejection and a sign they aren't good enough. If that lack of confidence is then translated into the appearances the goalkeeper does make, poor decision making could feature and in turn, errors of judgement. This can of course be avoided through strong man-management if the player is willing to take it in.
The defence are another factor that has to be considered when rotating goalkeepers. Different goalkeepers will have different methods, whether it be in the way they distribute the ball, how they communicate with the back four etc. Constant change could leave a defence confused as to the system they are playing in.
In Ferguson's case rotation appears to be working wonders for the goalkeepers development, albeit poor displays from the four in front have tarnished their goalkeeping records. I guess it just comes down to the personnel. Only a manager will know their players well enough to get the best out of them.
What is looking more and more unlikely however is that Friedel's 300+ consecutive appearance record will ever be beaten. But then is that a bad thing?
image: © nasmac