In addition to previewing two teams from the Premier League each day until the beginning of season, we will name five players to watch at each position, goalkeeper through forward. The 2013-14 season begins Aug. 17, and for the first time, every game will be broadcast live in the United States on NBC Sports.
So often, goalkeeping is an all-or-nothing position. The men between the sticks are either the heroes after making a save to preserve a lead, or they are the goats after giving up a soft goal (even if they’ve made 10 world-class saves before their one mistake).
In a league where most teams predicate their game on direct play such as the Premier League, goalkeepers are expected to do a lot. Those who wear the gloves in the English top flight are often some of the most physically imposing and athletically gifted in the world, because if they’re not, they will not survive.
Here are, in no particular order, five goalkeepers to watch this season in the Premier League:
Simon Mignolet, Liverpool
After an impressive campaign with Sunderland last year, Simon Mignolet moved to Liverpool this summer to replace Pepe Reina, who is on loan at Napoli. He produced multiple stunning displays for the Black Cats as they just survived the drop.
It was his impressive form at Sunderland the last two years that saw Mignolet earn his first caps with the Belgian national team. Now, he competes for playing time at the national level with Atlético Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois.
The challenge now for Mignolet will be keeping his superior form at a club where he likely won’t be called into action as often. The mental side of goalkeeping comes into play when players are under more pressure to perform but have fewer opportunities to do prove they can.
Brad Guzan, Aston Villa
The 2012-13 season was a breakout year for Brad Guzan (top image). After bidding his time behind Brad Friedel and Shay Given in previous seasons, Guzan’s performance last year was good enough for his teammates to vote him as the club’s Player of the Year. He also found playing time for the United States when Tim Howard was injured.
This summer was calmer than the previous few for Guzan. After being released and re-signed by Aston Villa after the 2011-12 season, he comes into this season as the undisputed No. 1 for his club.
The former Major League Soccer Goalkeeper of the Year seems to have earned some respect from both his teammates and the rest of the league. Now, when everybody expects him to play well, what will Guzan’s reaction be?
Joe Hart, Manchester City
Three years in a row, Joe Hart has won the Barclays Golden Glove for keeping the most shutouts in league play. His 53 over the last three seasons are second only to Pepe Reina’s 57 from 2005 to 2008, when he also won the award three years in a row for Liverpool.
The award has only been given out since the 2004-05 season, but Hart can become the first player to win it four times in 2012-13. Although a star-studded squad at Manchester City helps him along, and every goalkeeper will be quick to point out that clean sheets are a team effort, Hart is worthy of all his praise.
Hart is the first goalkeeper since David Seaman to grab the reins for the English national team and hold on tightly. It speaks to not only his quality, but also the consistency of his high level of play. On the rare occasions City needs salvation, not many are better equipped to provide it.
Tim Howard found a home at Everton after a shaky tenure with Manchester United. The Toffees’ No. 1 for six years, the American has played in all but four league matches since the 2007-08 season.
More than his superb shot stopping and command of the penalty area on crosses, Howard provides a vocal and demanding form of leadership that has steered Everton to top-10 finishes in every season since he joined the team.
That leadership will be necessary this season more than in the recent past, as manager David Moyes left to take over at Manchester United. Still, under Roberto Martínez, the Toffees have a chance to make more waves in 2012-13, and they will likely lean on their 34-year-old veteran goalkeeper for direction.
David de Gea, Manchester United
Since joining Manchester United two summers ago, the club paying Atlético Madrid a record transfer fee for a goalkeeper, it has been anything but smooth sailing for the young Spaniard. At just 22 years of age, de Gea is still a project for the future.
He was voted by the Professional Footballers’ Association into its Team of the Year last season, perhaps indicating that he is finally getting the hang of playing under the intense scrutiny of the English press and fans.
Certainly, de Gea has shown improvement in each of his seasons in the Premier League so far. However, this will be a crucial season for de Gea’s development. His age and experience are about when goalkeepers turn into world-class players and never look back — or go the other way entirely.