Playing between the sticks for Everton was a tough task during the 2015-16 season. The defense in front of the goalkeepers was porous and injury-riddled. With veteran Tim Howard struggling, Joel Robles was given the number one job by then-manager Roberto Martinez in mid-February and, apart from the final two home games, remained there through the rest of the season.
Robles is one of that handful of Wigan transfers that came to Everton along with Martinez a few years ago. This also includes Arouna Kone and James McCarthy. One has to wonder if this season was the only chance Robles will get to be a Premier League 'keeper. A new manager will be coming in during the summer. Howard has left for MLS. And captain Phil Jagielka hinted this week that mass changes could be coming. Did Robles do enough to stick around?
|Competition||Games||Goals Against||Save %||Clean Sheets||Pass Accuracy|
*stats from EvertonFC.com
What he did well
The 25-year-old brings an extreme level of intensity to his job. Towards the end of the season, he seemed to be one of the few players on the pitch that truly cared about the result of each match. He could regularly be seen yelling at the likes of John Stones or Matthew Pennington for certain errors in defense. As a supporter following a team that is struggling, you want to see that passion and an understanding from the players that the performance is not good enough. Robles exemplified that.
On top of that, he seems to be an above average shot stopper with an ability to make himself big in one-on-one situations. All 6-foot-5-inches of him would be used when an attacker was coming at him. Many times his saves in those situations would keep the Toffees in games that had no business even being close.
As with many of his teammates, Robles seemed to raise his game to the next level while playing in the FA Cup. The shining moment of his season was the February 20 fifth round match at Bournemouth. Following a McCarthy handball in the box, Robles made a key penalty kick save in a game that was scoreless at the time. Everton went on to win 2-0 and continue on in the competition.
What he could have done better
The entire Everton defense struggled with set pieces and crosses, but Robles may have been the worst of the bunch. On corner kicks he routinely made odd decisions while the ball is in flight. Either he came out too far, leaving the net exposed, or he stays on his line with a ball that is well within his reach. It is a strange problem that, you would think, could be fixed with some more time spent on the training ground.
As we have heard in the past, Martinez could not seem to find the merit in working on set pieces offensively, so I'm sure the same can be said on the defensive end. It showed in the way Robles played. At 25, he is still young, especially for a goalkeeper that has had limited game experience over the last three or four seasons. But he needs a coaching staff that can nurture him a bit
And his passing could stand to improve. Goal kicks are a roll of the dice, but Robles will go through spells where his sail out of bounds. At least keep the ball in play. As you see in the statistics above, he is only completing somewhere around 50 percent of his passes through all competitions. Those are a lot of given up possessions. If it is that difficult, have him pass it short to the defenders and let them dribble it up, or go with the Sunday league strategy and have Stones or Jags take the kicks for him. Again, some work in practice could help here.
The summer ahead
Everton will almost certainly be in the market for a goalkeeper to compete with Robles for the starting job, if not take it from him. Rumors in the past have suggested Jack Butland could make his way to Goodison Park, but that talk has cooled recently. Then there has been suggestions that they could look to Steve Mandanda, Asmir Begovic and/or Sergio Rico.
Robles has shown enough ability to be a consideration going into next season. No, he has not guaranteed himself a starting spot, but he is a capable player and should, at least, be Everton's backup in 2016-17.
Final Grade: B-
Getting a decent rating on a team that was this big of a disappointment is tough to do. Robles was nowhere near perfect, but he was typically the player that you were left saying "Well, at least Joel made a few saves". He was asked to takeover for a club legend in Howard and did so commendably. There is a lot of room for him to improve and he may never be the week-in, week-out starter again, but you can't say he didn't do a nice job while he was in that position.