Player: Joel Robles, #1
Games Played: 10; Games Started: 9; Clean Sheets: 4; Goals Conceded: 12; Goals: 0; Assists: 0; Yellow Cards: 2; Red Cards: 0
Being Tim Howard's backup can be a boring job when the number one is on top of his game. Last summer Howard showed the world what Toffees had known for years - when he's on, he's one of the best. However all top flight keepers need someone behind them to push them to be better and to take the reins in case of an injury. For Everton, that person is Joel Robles.
Robles is one of several players that followed manager Roberto Martinez from Wigan to Merseyside in the summer of 2013 (by way of a loan from Atletico Madrid). At 25 years old (his birthday was June 17th) Robles is currently first in line to be Tim Howard's successor. Though he did play in some cup matches early in his Everton career, he was completely relegated to warming the bench this past season, save one match, until Howard went down with a calf injury against Stoke on Boxing Day.
Robles held the top spot for eight more matches from the end of December through the Merseyside Derby on February 7th. Afterwards, Tim Howard was declared fit and somewhat controversially was handed his spot back without having to fight for it. After the derby Joel was only allowed to see the pitch from his sideline seat. With that small sample, we'll have to do our best to rate his season.
What He Did Well
Coming off the bench when you're the clear number two can be a difficult thing. It's magnified when you are replacing someone who has been good at their job for years but had recently gained international acclaim for their work; regardless of their current form. This is what Robles stepped into on December 26th when Tim Howard had to leave the match with an injury.
At first he seemed to struggle with the pace of the matches and gave of several soft goals for being out of place. As his game time increased, his comfort level with the role grew. The Toffees lost their first three matches with Robles guarding the net but by the end of Howard's injury spell, Joel had put together three consecutive clean sheet performances, including his last one against the team from across the park.
Once up to speed, Robles displayed the potential he previously showed when he played under Martinez at Wigan. He settled in well in the net at started to find his voice on the pitch. Bolstered by those three clean sheets, fans who had once written off Robles found themselves questioning the manager as he handed the spot right back to Tim Howard as soon as he was fit.
What He Could Have Done Better
As mentioned, Robles did not look anywhere near like a reliable keeper when he made his first appearances of the season. His positioning was often wrong, he would expose himself by coming out too far and he displayed trouble handling the ball. There were several mishandled balls that nearly led to goals. Once he did shake the rust off, he was solid but far from stellar.
The three clean sheets at the end of his stint in goal could just as easily be attributed to strong defensively play from his back line as well as poor offensive play from the opponents. In short, he was not tested very much.
The one match that stands out where Robles was not very clutch is the FA Cup tie against West Ham United where he saved one of ten penalty shots and then missed his own kick, ending the match and knocking Everton out of the tournament. It's hard to fault a goalkeeper for not doing well in a penalty shootout but you have to wonder if his fellow Spaniard Adrian got in his head before the kick. In that case, you may not question his kicking abilities but his mental strength instead; bringing us back to where Joel needs to focus on his game.
There is not much that we have seen that makes me question Robles' physical abilities. It's the mental errors that he makes. There are plays where he seems to overthink things and then there are ones where you don't know what he was thinking. He needs to be more decisive in the moment and build his confidence in order to avoid making as many mistakes as he has.
The good news with Joel is that he is still relatively young and still has years to develop. The question now is whether or not he will have that time at Everton. There was some concern amongst the fan base during the January transfer window that a permanent replacement for Howard needed to be brought in. Roberto Martinez did admit that he had made some enquiries but ultimately nothing materialized. This should lead to Robles wondering if he really is the heir apparent. Hopefully it will also serve as motivation.
Now it's your turn to tell us how you would grade Joel Robles' short season. An "A" would represent a great season, a "C" for average and a grade of "F" would mean that he was terrible.
After voting, please share your comments below.
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