Coming into the 2016-17 season Everton fans were widely expecting there to be some drastic changes in the goalkeeper ranks. After a fading Tim Howard bid adieu to the Premier League and Joel Robles took on the starter’s role during the waning days of the Roberto Martinez era, there was plenty of chatter that the Blues would be in the market for a new ‘Number 1’.
Once Ronald Koeman started work at Everton and immediately signed Maarten Stekelenburg, he indicated that he wanted to have three Premier League calibre goalkeepers. Stekelenburg bailed out Koeman last season as well when Southampton’s starting goalie Fraser Forster went down with a long-term injury.
Stekelenburg has been pretty steady and reliable for most of the season so far, though he has also shown that he is capable of some howlers. During Everton’s miserable run of one win in eleven games, the Dutchman was more often than not responsible for a few of the goals given up.
However, whenever Stek has been injured, Joel Robles has shown up and done very well so far this season. The Spaniard has started seven games in relief, and has gotten clean sheets in five of those games - wins over West Ham United, Leicester City, Southampton, Manchester City and now Crystal Palace. He conceded two goals twice, in the draw away at Hull City and the FA Cup exit against Leicester.
Joel has shown his value in recent times with his command of his penalty box, coming out confidently to claim crosses and setpieces, as well as displaying his reflexes with some blinding saves like the one that kept out Scott Dann’s header yesterday.
Robles’ good form had led to a selection headache for Koeman ahead of the Palace game -
“.. we have the competition for the (starting) goalkeeper. That’s what you want as a manager, and after that you have to make decisions.
“Stekelenburg is fully fit. I won’t say anything (about who will start). Last week he was not 100% to start the game, yes now he is a 100%, but that is a decision I have to take.”
Earlier in the week, in an interview with evertontv, Robles had indicated his frustartion with not starting regularly, but it’s looking like his form has won out and he should continue to play in the starting XI.
“I work hard for this situation because I like to play obviously. The only thing that is important is the present. I don’t know what the future is.
“You can learn by watching from the bench but when you have your chance you have to work hard and take it. That is the most important aspect of the life of a goalkeeper. I have confidence in my own ability.
“I have enjoyed playing the last few games. I don’t worry about whether I need to play more games, I just focus on the present and the next game.
For a goalkeeper, and the defence, we like to keep clean sheets. But the most important thing is the result.”
After the win yesterday where goalscorer Seamus Coleman commended Robles’ key stop, saying “the save was as good as a goal”, Robles spoke about his delight and the importance of team defending for his third clean sheet in a row in the Premier League.
“Not just for me and the defenders, the clean sheet is great for everyone. But it is not the most important thing – that is only the three points.
“Everybody on the pitch has to work hard for the clean sheet. If you can get one in every match, you are going to win a lot of games.
“Against Palace, we defended really well. It is never easy to do that against them but we did and scored late on. Seamus took his goal really well and made it very difficult for the goalkeeper to save.
“It was a good win. We played well, got the three points and I am so proud of my teammates. It was an important three points and now we need to rest and enjoy them.”
As long as Joel can maintain this standard of performance, it’s looking like he’s got the starting job sewn up for the rest of the season, and possibly gives Steve Walsh and Koeman longer to find a couple of young keepers for the future.
The Spaniard is currently 26, and is on contract until the end of the 2017-18 season. Yesterday was his 50th appearance for Everton, with 56 goals conceded and 19 clean sheets. He also has seven caps for Spain in youth internationals.