Rafa Benitez’s decision to bring in a new starting goalkeeper, Matt Sels, in the only position Newcastle seemed to have more than adequate cover raised eyebrows in the summer especially when his new chosen one has started the season in shaky, unconvincing fashion.
Benitez, who has ‘rotated’ out-field players ruthlessly, has been quick to defend Sels following post-game questioning by journalists and criticism by fans saying:
“Normally (with) the keeper you have to give him more confidence because you cannot change keeper every week. You can change a full-back, you can change a winger, you can change a striker – it depends on the other players around. But the keeper has an influence on the team and he has to have confidence so its important to give him confidence.”
Yet if the goalkeeping position is such an important role then surely the most confident and best keeper should start and right now, that is 25 year-old relative Championship veteran Karl Darlow.
Tim Krul, who started last season as The Magpies’ no. 1 has been loaned to Ajax for a year following his serious knee injury playing for Holland last season, purportedly because of club concerns about his fitness but it is rumoured he did not want to spend a season in The Championship.
Republic of Ireland international Robbie Elliot took over from Krul following that injury and impressed between the sticks, especially memorable at Bournemouth in a superlative display yet he himself suffered the curse of Newcastle keepers and was himself injured on international duty prior to The Euros.
Karl Darlow, a signing from Notts Forest, who after a disastrous full Newcastle debut at WBA in December spilling the game’s only goal into his own net, ended the season with the goalkeeper’s jersey and some Man of the Match performances and game-saving heroics like this Yohan Cabaye penalty save versus Crystal Palace should be no. 1.
Considering Newcastle also have the extremely highly-rated England U19 goalkeeper Freddie Woodman on their books plus Krul, Elliot and Darlow, a goalkeeper was a strange positional choice for Rafa’s first signing.
The Champions League-winning manager explained in an interview on BBC Newcastle with Mick Lowes that his thinking was that Krul and Elliot were both injured and to start the season with just two fit goalkeepers – Darlow and Woodman, one very young – was irresponsible, hence Selz’s arrival.
Fair enough especially considering Newcastle have had to thrust young keepers like Jak Alnwick into the St. James’ Park deep end in the past who, despite initial heroics against Chelsea and Diego Costa, whom he memorably punched, left the club soon after.
Yet for Benitez to back Sels as his no. 1 choice seemingly before training and the season proper began was a premature choice, a view given weight by the mistake the Belgian goalkeeper made in a pre-season friendly at Doncaster trying to chip a striker without success and giving away a penalty in the process.
Sels may well be the best keeper in Belgium yet the Jupiler Pro League is no real standard to judge from, it certainly doesn’t compare with The Premier League and this season’s cash-rich SKY Bey Championship may well be a step up from it which Sels has had to adapt to.
Add to that the pressure of playing in front of 50,000 people at St. James’ Park and the fervent Geordie hordes on the road compared to performing in the 20,000-capacity Ghelamco Arena and Sels may well still be adjusting to the responsibility of playing at what is a massive football club and in a different country.
The Karl Darlow – Jamaal Lascelles Understanding Is Key
As well as being at home in English football, the key advantage Darlow has over Sels and his other rivals for the goalkeeping shirt, Elliot when he is back and Woodman, is the playing history and friendship he shares with current Newcastle Captain Jamaal Lascelles.
Both players are products of the highly-regarded Nigel Doughty Academy at Notts Forest which has produced three other ex-Newcastle players in recent years – Marlon Harewood, James Perch and Jermaine Jenas – as well as current Premier League Champion Wes Morgan.
From there, Darlow and Lascelles graduated to the Forest first team where they played two full seasons together under bosses like Stuart Pearce, a coach who has since disparaged their reputation after they both signed for Newcastle behind his back in the summer of 2014.
Yet both their performances in the relegation run-in last season contradicted Pearce’s opinion and Newcastle may not have been in the predicament they found themselves in had more trust been placed in players chased by the likes of Man U, Liverpool and Arsenal before Newcastle snapped them up.
That level of shared experience with Forest on and off the pitch and the move to Newcastle together gives the pair a unique bond and understanding of each other’s game that can only be good if utilised in a black and white (and green) shirt for The Magpies aiding defensive communication and confidence.
Darlow Projects Calm and Reassurance and Commands His Box
While there may not be a lot to choose from between Sels and Darlow’s shot-stopping ability, Darlow is a man of greater stature and projects a confidence and reliability that Sels does not yet possess in English football.
Newcastle fans and watchers are not yet convinced by a goalkeeper who flaps at crosses and doesn’t seem to dominate his defense and defensive area.
Benitez’s other major signings – Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie and Mo Diame – were all specifically signed for their Championship know-how and experience and are already proving to be real assets in the second tier.
It may well come with time with Sels but with a ready-made, established, Championship experienced goalkeeping and central defender partnership in the Newcastle ranks, the recall of Darlow who looked the part on Tuesday against Cheltenham behind Captain Lascelles could settle a few early-season nerves on Tyneside.
Juventus Fans Arrested After Clash with Police
Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash between Juventus and Ajax has already been marred by violence and controversy, before the teams even took to the pitch.
According to Ansa, citing a report from De Telegraaf, dozens of fans were reportedly arrested in Amsterdam in the hours leading up to the game.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (h/t Football Italia) took to Facebook live video to state that “around 120” fans had been arrested.
Per the report from De Telegraaf, fans near the Johan Cruyff Arena were “in possession of knives, clubs, pepper spray and flares.” Also, dozens of Ajax supporters were reported to have clashed with riot police in separate incidents outside the stadium and were eventually dispersed with the use of tear gas and water cannons.
The Mirror posted the following images on their Twitter page:
Man City forward Raheem Sterling Looking to Combat Racism on the Pitch
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, who spoke out last month after being subjected to taunts during England’s game in Montenegro, is looking to take his fight against racism to the pitch, saying he would rather stay on the field than let racism force him to walk off of the pitch during a match.
Sterling’s manager Pep Guardiola, stated that he would support players walking off in protest if it happened again, in a strong statement that racism is simply not acceptable.
“I think everyone are entitled to their own opinions. My mum has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and I am,” Sterling said, according to the Manchester Evening News.
“I wouldn’t personally agree with [walking off], to win the game would hurt them even more they’re only trying to get you down. If you walk off they win, to score or win would be better.
“Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own opinion, how they deal with things emotionally and you have to support everyone.”
Sterling opened up about the racism he has faced in his life, discussing when he first expereinced racism when he moved from North London up to the north-west back in 2010.
“I don’t think trying to make a difference or making a difference, it’s about speaking what you experience. Some people might shy away from it, if more players speak up that might be better.
“It’s offensive but growing up my mum always told me I’m a wonderful black child and I know this. When I hear it, it’s nothing new. I’m happy with it. I’m confident, I’m black and I’m proud. Some people can’t take it but my mum has always told me to love who I am.
“The first time I experienced racism is when I went up north to Liverpool – in London in schools and on a day-to-day basis you’re surrounded by a diverse community. Only a few occasions growing up in the academy in Liverpool, and then mainly in the last couple of years of being a professional.”
Birmingham City Fan Jailed for 14 Days for Punching Aston Villa Player
27-year old Paul Mitchel, a Birmingham City fan has been jailed for 14 days after he plead guilt to assaulting Aston Villa midfielder Jack Graelish during the derby on Sunday.
Mitchell rushed the pitch and took a swing at Graelish when the player’s back was turned at Birmingham City’s St. Andrew’s stadium during the Championship match on Sunday.
Mitchell admitted to invading the pitch and has been officially banned from attending any football match in the U.K. for up to 10 years, and was also ordered to pay £350 in total fines.
Graelish made a statement in which he described how he was “shocked and scared” by the attack.
“I cannot help but feel how lucky I was in this incident,” he said (h/t ESPN). “It could have been so much worse had the supporter had some sort of weapon.”
“He cannot explain what came over himself yesterday morning,” Mitchell’s lawyer, Vaughn Whistance, said on Monday.
“His initial foolish intention was to go onto the pitch to whip up the crowd. He is certainly remorseful today. He is a man with a partner, they have a 2-year-old together and they’re expecting their second child.”
“This weekend a line has been crossed in terms of fan behaviour,” said a spokesperson for the FA.
“On Sunday we saw two separate incidents, at Birmingham City and Arsenal, of individuals entering the field of play and assaulting players.
“Not only is it an offence to enter the pitch, which could result in a club ban and criminal charges for the individual, but it also puts the safety of the players at risk.
“This is entirely unacceptable and we strongly condemn both incidents.
“We will be working with the clubs, the leagues and the police to discuss what collectively needs to be done to protect players and officials on the pitch.
“In addition, we have written to both Birmingham City and Arsenal to seek their observations to examine the security measures they had in place.”
Birmingham City apologized to Grealish and Aston Villa and banned Mitchell for life.
“Birmingham City Football Club would like to apologise to Jack Grealish and Aston Villa Football Club for an incident in Sunday afternoon’s derby match,” a club statement said.
“We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St. Andrew’s for life. The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law.
“The club will be working with the relevant authorities to investigate all the circumstances and we will be reviewing our stadium safety procedures.
“What happened has no place in football or society. Jack is a Birmingham lad and regardless of club allegiance should not have been subjected to this — there are no excuses.
“Again, we apologise to Jack and all at Aston Villa Football Club.”
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