Every great side over the years has had a world-class goalkeeper between the sticks. They are an essential part of a top side and can win a team many, many points throughout the course of a season.
You only have to look at the likes of Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon in recent years and how much they have won and how their performances helped their sides to many successes.
So when trying to assemble a successful squad the first thing you need is a good goalkeeper. As soon as Ronald Koeman came into Southampton he realised this and moved swiftly to fill that position. That was when Fraser Forster arrived from Celtic for a fee upwards of £10m.
Forster, ex-Newcastle and Norwich, had impressed during his time at Celtic, both in the Scottish league and Champions League, and deserved his move to the Premier League. He had just been part of the England squad at the 2014 World Cup and so came with a very high pedigree.
It is a massive step up from Scotland to the Premier League so there were a few doubts about whether or not he would be able to handle the transition. Well, over 18 months later and it is safe to say he has. Settling into life in the Premier League with consummate ease.
Forster played 30 Premier League matches last season, keeping 13 clean sheets, as Southampton finished seventh in the league; their highest ever finish. However, his season was marred by a painful injury to his knee in a match against Burnley in March. He went down clutching his knee following a long kick as he seemingly jarred it whilst trying to extend his knee for the kick.
The English shot-stopper was subsequently sidelined for over nine months with the injury and only returned at the start of last month. Southampton had been playing with Maarten Stekelenburg as first-choice throughout the season up until Forster’s return.
Stekelenburg was less than impressive and it was just a case of waiting for Forster to return before we would see the best from the Saints side. This has so far proven to be the case. Since Forster’s comeback match against Watford last month, Southampton have kept six clean sheets in as many games and are, therefore, yet to have conceded a goal since Forster’s return.
The 6ft 7inch man mountain has been like a brick wall in goal for the Saints over the last six matches. His return has etched new life into the whole Saints squad, especially the defence, and has given the side the lift that it desperately needed.
Following the 1-0 loss to Norwich in the first match of 2016, Southampton sat 13th in the league. At this point the prospect of another top eight finish looked far from likely and there were even some, extremely harsh, calls for Ronald Koeman to be relieved of his duties.
Yet, since Forster’s return, Southampton have won five and drawn one of their last six matches and now lay sixth in the league. This has rocketed Southampton straight back into the European push as they try to secure a Europa League spot for the second successive season.
I think that, sometimes, the impact that a goalkeeper can have on a side is underestimated. Just take Arsenal, for example, this season; Petr Cech was their only summer signing and look at how much of a difference he has made to their side. A goalkeeper can do much more than just save shots; they can command their box, relieve pressure from the team and command the defence.
As a defender, having a goalkeeper behind you who is confident and assured in their actions gives you so much belief and confidence. It can inspire better performances and, therefore, attract better results. For me, it is the most important position on the pitch. A striker can score three goals and still lose the game 4-3, but if a goalkeeper keeps a clean sheet then you are guaranteed at least a point.
Now when it comes to Forster himself; he excels at all of the listed points. He is a very good shot-stopper as well as being able to command his box and claim crosses. If you also want to hear if he is able to command his defenders then just have a listen on Match Of The Day when Southampton are defending. I was watching it the other week (against Manchester United I believe) and you heard his booming voice “ORIOL STAY TIGHT”. Now, if I was defending and heard a call as demanding as he made it, I certainly wouldn’t ignore him. I can’t remember if Romeu did indeed ‘stay tight’, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be in his position if he didn’t.
With most Premier League teams, there are two types of goalkeepers; ones who save a lot of shots but don’t command their box and ones who command their box but don’t save as many shots. Stekelenburg probably came under the latter, even if he didn’t command his box that well. ‘Keepers like Simon Mignolet, however, come under the former; saving a hatful of shots but then dropping every cross. Forster comes under neither category.
For me, Forster is up there with the best ‘keepers in the league. Thibaut Courtois, David De Gea, Hugo Lloris, Joe Hart and Fraser Forster are the best five goalkeepers in the league for their overall game. I would say Butland, but I don’t think he is as strong in other aspects of his game as he is with his shot-stopping, which is excellent.
Forster is a fantastic shot-stopper and makes some incredible saves, but he is also confident and controlled enough to come out and claim crosses and help his defence out. There have been two games recently that have highlighted both points superbly; Arsenal away and West Ham at home.
Arsenal away has been Forster’s best performance since his return so far. He made ten saves as Southampton held on for a 0-0 draw at The Emirates and was in impenetrable form for the Saints. My pick of the bunch was the one early in the match when he saved Mesut Ozil’s flick from point-blank range to stop what looked like a nailed-on goal. He also made a number of other fantastic saves that made the commentator start to run out of superlatives for the giant.
West Ham at home, however, was a different story. Although he did make one cat-like stop in the first-half to deny the Hammers, it was his dominance within the 18-yard box that helped Saints to the win. It was his calm head and safe hands that helped relieve pressure on the defence and push Southampton up the pitch that contributed to the 1-0 win at St.Mary’s.
Labeling Forster as a ‘brick wall’ is an apt description. He just seems to cover the width of the goal with his massive frame and is a frightening prospect for any opposing forward attempting to score. There are some goalkeepers that have the massive frame but not the agility; Forster has both and it serves him well.
There are currently 12 Premier League matches left to play and if Southampton are to find themselves in a European place come the end of May then Forster is undoubtedly going to have played a massive part in that.
Southampton face Chelsea next at St.Mary’s after next week’s FA Cup fixtures and Fraser Forster will be looking to extend the 633 minutes of Premier League action he has gone without the opposition finding the back of the net.