After a great performance on Saturday against Norwich, Brad Guzan earned the plaudits from fans and pundits alike, which he thoroughly deserved.
The American goalkeeper, who was re-signed by Paul Lambert last year, put on a man of the match display and claimed his first clean sheet since December.
Statistics can sometimes prove to be misleading. As Villa had gone 27 games without a clean sheet, it would have been easy for people to point the finger of blame towards Villa’s back line or goalkeeper. Despite not keeping a clean sheet for a lengthy spell of games, Brad Guzan was one of the stand out performers last season, effectively keeping Villa in games single-handedly at times when the defence lacked confidence and experience.
The effort Guzan put in last season did not go unnoticed as he was awarded the ‘fans’ player of the year’ award, an accolade which looked likely to have Benteke’s name on it due to his goal-scoring exploits in his debut season. The fans recognised that Guzan’s ability and drive had helped the team survive a relegation scare and enabled Villa to retain their Premiership status.
Against Norwich on Saturday, Aston Villa conceded a penalty early in the first half after the ball had hit Ciaran Clark on the hand inside the area. After watching the incident many times, I feel it was a very harsh decision from the referee. Clark had his hands down by his side after the ball was played into the box and headed down by Ricky Van Wolfswinkel inside the area towards Clark’s hand, which gave Clark virtually no time at all to react.
Snodgrass stepped up to take the penalty and Guzan pulled off an excellent save to deny the home side an early lead. Guzan has always been a fine shot stopper and saving penalties has also been one of Guzan’s strengths. During the Martin O’Neill era, Guzan mostly featured in FA Cup and Carling Cup matches, as Brad Friedel was the preferred choice in goal for Premiership games. Guzan made a name for himself during that time in a cup match in 2009 when Sunderland hosted Villa for a game in which Guzan saved four penalties. Yes, four penalties! He saved one penalty during normal time and three penalties in the shoot-out, which Villa won 3-1.
When I see Guzan’s name on our team sheet, I feel confident. He does what Given and Friedel never did well: he comes out to claim the ball in mid-air. The number of times Guzan has come out of his six yard area to collect a cross/corner and alleviate pressure on our defence in the last two seasons has been staggering. I don’t think we as fans – or the players in our defence – can underestimate how great it is to see our goalkeeper doing that.
Another advantage that Guzan has over most goalkeepers in the Premier League is his distribution of the ball. If you watch Villa regurlarly, you’ll see that we play best when we are on the counter-attack – and Guzan is vital to that. Guzan has thrown the ball extremely quickly, and with precision, to our wide players near the halfway line to start a counter-attack numerous times this season.
This week, Guzan was named in the BBC’s ‘team of the week’ and that was great to see. At Carrow Road on Saturday he saved a penalty and made vital saves throughout the game, including one world class save to deny Gary Hooper a certain goal.
Paul Lambert was also singing his praises after the game. Not only did he commend Guzan on a great performance, he also said he has a brilliant attitude:
“Guzan was commanding. And the save from the header, where he tipped over the bar, that was world-class.
“To be fair, while I have been here, he’s been so consistent with his performances. He’s an absolute top lad too.”
Brad Guzan is a top professional and all of the players in the Villa squad seem to hold the American in high regard.
When asked about his performance, Guzan was quick to deflect the praise on to the defence as a whole:
“Credit to the guys in front of me. I thought we did that well. Aside from a couple of saves, I didn’t have much else to do. That’s credit to the work-rate of the guys in front of me. Hats off to them.
“It shows how far we have come. It shows what this team is about – fight, determination, resilience, character.”
When someone asks me who the best goalkeepers in the Premier League are, the usual candidates I think about are Petr Cech, Joe Hart, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Simon Mignolet and Asmir Begovic. Joe Hart has been inconsistent for club and country. Simon Mignolet’s distribution of the ball and decision making can be dodgy. Petr Cech is very consistent but he does have very good players in front of him to help him out, even on his bad days.
I think it’s now time to add Brad Guzan to that list. Currently, he is one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. Well done, Brad!