When the teams were announced ahead of Sunday’s game against Man Utd, I mustn’t have been the only one who was quite anxious to see Martin Dubravka’s name emerge. Talk about been thrown in at the deep end..
A few hours later and we witnessed one of the most impressive debuts we are ever likely to see at St James’ Park. He was outstanding in everything he did and rightfully came away with a 10/10 player rating from both ourselves and the Chronicle.
Goalkeepers live and die by confidence, so their stars to life at new clubs and in new leagues seem especially key. We saw how it can all go wrong with Matz Sels, but on the flip side, Dubravka’s debut display and the confidence he’ll have taken from that can’t be understated.
For a player with limited pedigree at international or club level, this was a huge step up for him and arguably as tough a stage as it’s going to get given the circumstances and the level of the opposition. To say he passed the test with flying colours is an understatement, with his performance showing several signs that he’s a goalkeeper who has everything it takes to be a success in the Premier League.
After being at the game on Sunday to see him for myself and watching the game back on Sky Sports since, here’s a few elements of his game and his character that make me believe he’ll be anything but a one-hit wonder for NUFC:
Quick reflexes and impressive agility
He made a string of fine reaction saves on Sunday, improvising well to stop Martial with his feet in a one on one, parrying a powerful shot from Young at close range and getting down incredibly to his left to stop Carrick’s goal bound effort in the last seconds of the game.
He was called upon several times to make crucial saves and looked quick, agile and reliable in each instance. One thing that also impressed me was how quick he was able to recover after making a save (See how quickly he springs up after parrying Ashley Youngs powerful shot in the second half)
He also showed his speed and decisiveness in the way he came off his line to intercept balls in behind, with one of his first touches being a Hugo Lloris-esque dash of his line to clear the ball with his feet as Martial looked to get in behind.
Confident and commanding from crosses
One criticism of Darlow has been his hesitance from crosses, with some hairy moments recently in the 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.
Not only does this leave you incredibly exposed from crosses, but it creates real panic and unease in defence. Dubravka started well on Sunday with some decent stops, but the way he claimed his first cross into the box was mightily impressive.
A first half set piece was floated into the box in an area that most keepers wouldn’t delve into, but he was quick to come out and plucked the ball out of the air effortlessly. He also repeated this in the second half, punching away a dangerous cross that the likes of Darlow may have left.
Obviously we’ll have to hope that he doesn’t come looking for crosses when they’re not in his reach, but based on Sunday’s display he knows when to come and when to stay at home.
The ball-playing keeper Benitez has craved?
Darlow and Elliot are capable goalkeepers, but there distribution is considerably poor and has limited our play on several occasions this season.
Benitez has made it pretty clear that he wanted his own number one in recent transfer windows, and based on the players we’ve been linked with (Pepe Reina being one), he’s been after a goalie whose confident with the ball at his feet.
Dubravka showed on Sunday that he can be exactly that. He did nothing over the top, but he looked a solid kicker of the ball, with his goal kicks often arrowing towards the intended target, as well as him seeming confident to play out from the back, looking calm and cool even when others may have lumped it into touch.
For a team that struggles to keep a hold of the ball, this could be a welcome addition to our all round approach.
A calming influence and a good communicator in a cauldron of chaos
Another thing I made a note of was his constant communication with his defence. This is something I’ve not seen enough of from Darlow in particular, but Duvravka (who clearly speaks good english) was looking to organise his defence from the off.
Dubravka is constantly shouting at his defence, organising them & telling them where to be. Rafa wants someone vocal between the sticks, Dubravka is certainly trying to offer that so far. #nufc
— Chris Waugh (@ChrisDHWaugh) February 11, 2018
He also never looked phased by the atmosphere and occasion he was thrust into, with it being quite a moment for him to make his Premier League debut against Manchester United of all teams in a packed out St James’ Park.
This won’t have been an atmosphere he’s been used to, however he seems confident yet calm in amongst it all. He also seems to speak well and be taking all of this in his stride, meaning he doesn’t seem the sort of character who’ll get carried away by such an incredible debut.
🎥 Goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka spoke to NUFC TV after his outstanding debut against @ManUtd this afternoon.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) February 11, 2018
Don’t get me wrong folks, one dream debut doesn’t make him the league’s new David De Gea, so we should all stay grounded, however I thought I’d share my thoughts on the Slovakian after being impressed by so many elements of his game on Sunday.