Injured Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard is on track to be able to return in about three weeks. The 35-year-old American's performance had come under fire earlier in the season before he suffered a calf injury against Stoke City on Boxing Day. So when Howard does return -- should he assume his starting spot in the lineup?
Everton manager Roberto Martinez had initially said he would look for a goalkeeper in the January transfer window. But backup Joel Robles has made his case (especially in the FA Cup replay loss at West Ham) and possibly changed the boss' mind, and no moves have been made thus far. Martinez may have a decision to make in three weeks.
Howard came into the 2014/15 season on the heels of a celebrated World Cup where he broke the record for saves (16) in a match in a 2-1 loss to Belgium. Before he went down to injury, Howard had a 56% save percentage, the lowest among Premier League goalkeepers. Last season, he had finished in the top five in that category. However, that statistic has a lot to do with the defensive players in front of the goalkeeper. This season has seen a previously-strong backline and defensive midfield fall victim to aging and lack of chemistry due to constant changes. So while Howard's performance has almost certainly declined, it's debatable how much of that decline can be attributed to the defense playing in front of him.
Howard's age will almost definitely be a factor in Martinez's decision. If the boss chooses not to buy another keeper during the transfer window, is that a vote of confidence in the decade-younger Robles as the goalkeeper of the future? Or is he just waiting until summer to make a more permanent decision? Keep in mind that Howard turns 36 in March, which is not necessarily elderly for a goalkeeper, but he is getting up there.
Another factor to consider is the timing of Howard's return. If he really does return on schedule, it would be just in time to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Does Martinez want to start the American, coming back from a month and a half on the sidelines? The same player who let six goals slip by in the unforgettable 6-3 thrashing at Goodison Park?
Finally, Robles' performance needs to be considered. The young Spaniard allowed three goals to Newcastle United in his first start after taking over for Howard. But his recent play has been solid, including a clean sheet against West Brom and his FA Cup showing at West Ham. The argument can be made that Robles has looked like a first-team goalkeeper at times and will get better with more opportunites and confidence.
Let it be known that I'm an American and a big fan of Howard. As an Evertonian, I hope he can come back and have a couple more solid years at Goodison Park. I also understand he isn't getting any younger, and his performance this year hasn't been up to par. I think that Martinez will have him starting again after the Chelsea match -- most likely against Young Boys in the Europa League, because he is still the best option for the club.
So what do you think Martinez should do? Vote in the poll below and make your case in the comments.