Things have been going very well lately and the team is seemingly rounding into form now. Several players have continued to improve and we are scoring enough to win most or our games. What is the state of affairs with the defence however? We were concerned about it early in the season. Goalkeeping was an issue with many thinking Sels looked shaky and nervous. Our centre backs and fullbacks were also under close scrutiny. Defenders are a little more difficult to get a handle on, but we can track them through a few statistics. But let’s consider our keep situation first.
Matz Sels: the young (24 year old) Belgian was brought in to bolster the position with both Tim Krul and Rob Elliot out with serious injuries. He has played 9 league games with five clean sheets so far. The 2-0 win against Brighton was generally considered his high point. His handling of crosses has been shaky on several occasions however and overall he hasn’t always inspired confidence.
Karl Darlow: The 26 year old is beginning to come into his own as a senior keeper. He has appeared in 6 matches including cup games this season with 4 clean sheets. The competition for playing time will only increase with the return to fitness of our remaining senior keeper Rob Elliot. Is Karl our keeper of the future? I think the jury is still out as Elliot has signed a significant contract extension.
Rob Elliot: the 30 year old Irish international was our primary keeper last season after Tim Krul’s ACL injury. Considering the state of the club with horrendous management under Steve McLaren he was a solid performer who provided decent goalkeeping but it was far too much to ask for him to add enough to keep us in the Prem. He was rewarded for his performances however with a contract extension that will keep him at the club for four more years. His own ACL injury will be a significant challenge to recover fully from. Will he wrestle the starting job back from Darlow and Sels? My feeling is yes but Darlow won’t be kept on the sidelines for long. As for Matz Sels, I’m not sure if he has a future with us.
I’ll focus on the back four in the future.