Welcome to Eleven Days of Newcastle, where we will preview each position on the pitch in advance of the opening match of the 2012-13 Premier League season with Tottenham Hotspur on August 18. We will post one a day, and since it's still Tuesday where I live, we should get done with one day left to go. Let's start at the top of the formation and work our way down. After the jump, a preview of Newcastle's goaltenders.
Last offseason the question of who would man the goalposts for Newcastle United was pretty much settled (Alan Pardew remained committed to Tim Krul from the start), but that didn't stop supporters from making their cases for Steve Harper or even Fraser Forster. In the end, Krul started and finished 38 Premier League games, erasing any doubts about the decision with his play. He kept 15 clean sheets and led the 9th ranked defense in the league, conceding 1.34 goals a match and less than 1 a game at home. That, despite allowing 4 & 5 goals twice each. The boom or bust nature of Newcastle's defensive performance in 2011-12 seemed directly tied to the form of Tim Krul. Certainly the goalkeeper is not always to blame when the opposition scores, and the Toon often played with a patchwork back 4, but if there's one thing keeping Krul from standing among the truly great keepers in the league, it's consistency in his shotblocking performance.
There is room for improvement elsewhere, of course. His distribution rates rarely crack 50%, and his decision-making on 50/50 balls can be suspect at times (see Andy Carroll's famous trip for a high-profile example). Krul's quick-reaction shot stopping ability will cover over a multitude of sins, however, and he certainly possesses the ability to keep his team in any game against any opponent.
Steve Harper will presumably be Krul's primary backup, though last season when he wasn't on loan he didn't travel with the team. Newcastle's participation in the Europa League will likely necessitate more participation from the second choice goalie, and will definitely necessitate more travel. Will Harper, a career Newcastle man, join the team in Europe when the time comes, or will Rob Elliot get the call? Elliot's poor performance in the cups last season did not go unnoticed by the Toon Army, but to be frank, Harper showed his age (37) this preseason. Speaking of 37, Harper now dons that number, calling to mind the ostracization of midfielder Rob Lee during the Ruud Gullit era (Lee's 7 shirt was given away, and when he returned to play under Sir Bobby Robson he took #37). So is the new number symbolic of a perceived slight in Harper's mind, or is it a statement of rededication to the team? Or is it, as Harper claims, just a coincidence that the number of his age just so happens to have a little history behind it? However you slice it, this has the feel of a season where Steve Harper fades off into the sunset (and hopefully joins the club's coaching staff). Perhaps he'll prove me wrong and be an integral part of a deep cup run.
The uncertainty surrounding the backup role is sort of troubling. As mentioned earlier, whoever the #2 is will likely need to play some significant minutes, as it's vitally important to keep Tim Krul fresh for as many league matches as he can handle. Newcastle already have a scheduling snafu brewing at the beginning of the season - an August 23 fixture with an as-yet unknown opponent in the Europa League, followed by a date with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge just 2 days later. Last year at this time one could have argued that Newcastle had 3 first-team goalkeepers in their squad, but one has aged and the other was sold. Tim Krul will hold the club in his capable mitts, but 19 year-old Jak Alnwick is, by all accounts, at least a year away from being able to contribute at the Premier League level. It will be up to Harper or Elliot to stand in the gap should the unthinkable happen.
Aside from the nebulous backup situation, which honestly could resolve itself before the preseason is up, the goalkeeping situation at Newcastle continues to be solid. Tim Krul is the backbone of a team that is very strong up the middle, and as long as he continues to develop (It's easy to forget that he'll be 24 for the majority of the upcoming season), the Toon will have a legitimate chance of finishing at least in the top half of the defensive table once again.